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Tomatoes have the dormant genes to produce a spicy compound called capsaicinoid.

Coming soon: Spicy tomatoes via genome editing

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Researchers have now confirmed that genome editing technology could produce a spicy compound called capsaicinoids in tomatoes. This could result in spicy tomatoes.

The research was recently published in the journal Trends in Plant Science. According to this research, tomato could be genetically modified to produce capsaicinoids.

Capsaicinoids are the sizzling chemicals that bring hot and spicy taste in chili peppers. The researchers at the Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil said that producing the spicy tomatoes will be possible using gene editing technology.

The major objective behind this research is not to produce spicy tomatoes to sell in supermarkets or grocery stores. The aim is to mass produce spicy compound called capsaicinoids for commercial purposes.

This could be the easiest way to produce the sharp-tasting molecule which has significant value. This is because chili peppers that yield Capsaicinoids are harder to cultivate.

Agustin Zsögön from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil and co-author of the research paper said, “Engineering the capsaicinoid genetic pathway to the tomato would make it easier and cheaper to produce this compound, which has very interesting applications.”

Zsögön also added, “Capsaicinoids are very valuable compounds; they are used in the weapons industry for pepper spray, they are also used for anesthetics and there is some research showing that they promote weight loss.”

The crop of chili peppers is difficult to cultivate. It becomes complex to maintain the consistency of pungency in the fruit. But as the yield of tomato is very high and its plant is researched well, researchers say it is easy to create capsaicinoids through it.

It has been studied that tomatoes and chili peppers have the same DNA as they both have been developed from a common ancestor. They both diverged as species over 19 million years ago.

The studies of the plants have revealed that the tomatoes still have the dormant genes which are essential to produce capsaicinoids. There is a need to switch those inactive genes on. The researchers are trying to figure out the expression patterns of capsaicinoids molecule in tomato using various techniques.

The research paper published in the Trends in Plant Science Journal explains the theories to turn those genes on in tomatoes to create capsaicinoids. One of those methods is CRISPR-Cas9 (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).

CRISPR is a cluster of DNA sequences which are present in genomes of bacteria and archaea. Such sequences are used to deal with and detect the infections in prokaryotes. It plays an important role during antiviral defense system.

Cas9 is an enzyme that takes the help CRISPR sequences to tweak or edit the genes within an organism using the CRISPR Cas9 technology. Such technology has a wide application and may help in treating disease.

The genome editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to activate one gene at a time. It will help researchers to watch the produced compound. This technique is yet under trial along with some other methods.

If scientists successfully engineer a tomato using the technique by the end of the year, it will be a great feat as this will create significant value for the genome editing concept.

The technique can then be implemented in agriculture to use gene edited tomatoes or other products to produce many essential metabolites in the future.

It is not for the first time that CRISPR technique is used to give a twist in the genes of tomatoes. The technique was also used earlier to create sweeter strawberries, tastier ground cherries and non-browning mushrooms.

Using the genetically-modified tomatoes, we could produce bixin which is an essential cosmetic and food pigment. It will also be helpful for the creation of beta-carotene which is a powerful antioxidant.

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