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Condiments And Caterpillars: Thank This Insect For Mustard, Horseradish And Wasabi (WATCH)

First Posted: Jul 01, 2015 11:24 AM EDT
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We can thank the caterpillar for some of our favorite condiments, according to recent findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This includes mustard, horseradish and wasabi.

According to a new study, the chemical flavors that help spice up our hot dogs and sushi are actually the result of an ongoing evolutionary conflict between plants and predators.

For the study, researchers at the University of Missouri studied nine existing Brassicales genomes and also generated transcriptomes (the set of all RNA in a cell). This method helped allow them to create a map of the evolutionary family tree of species to determine just when certain changes occurred. Furthermore, three evolutionary "waves" were also identified that occurred within the past 80 million years, allowing plants to develop certain defense tactics.

"We found that the origin of brand-new chemicals in the plant arose through gene duplications that encode novel functions rather than single mutations," said lead study author Pat Edger, a former MU post doc, in a news release. "Given sufficient amounts of time the insects repeatedly developed counter defenses and adaptations to these new plant defenses."

One of the most interesting finds regarding the study results has to do with how the plants use duplication as opposed to single mutations to augment gene expression, as well as facilitate new chemical defenses; this accounts for the wide variety of flavors produced by plants that we are familiar with today.

Furthermore, researchers said they believe that gaining new insights into the concept could help lead to potential breakthroughs in the agricultural industry.

"If we can harness the power of genetics and determine what causes these copies of genes, we could produce plants that are more pest-resistant to insects that are co-evolving with them-it could open different avenues for creating plants and food that are more efficiently grown," added study author Chris Pires, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri.

Want to learn more about how our favorite condiments are created? Check out this video, courtesy of YouTube.

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