Chile Pepper Genome Sequenced, Unlocking Potential Genetic Improvements

First Posted: Feb 08, 2013 10:30 AM EST

Chile peppers have now joined the ranks of other biological entities that have had their genomes sequenced. Researchers with New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute working in cooperation with researchers in South Korea have completed a high-resolution draft of the chile pepper genome.

The achievement, which was announced at the New Mexico Chile Conference, is the first time ever that this scientific feat has been performed with chile. It will allow researchers to examine previously unimagined questions about the pepper and accelerate efforts to breed improved versions of the chile. In particular, it could allow breeders to create peppers that are better able to adapt to climate change, use less water and are able to resist insects and diseases.

Actually mapping the genome, though, didn't come easily. The researchers used an Illumina sequencer, an advanced piece of machinery that takes only a few days to do the same amount of genetic processing work that previously took 600 machines 10 years to accomplish, according to Southwest Farm Press. It turned out that the chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs--the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix. In addition, researchers estimated that there are about 37,000 chile pepper genes.

But how would scientists create an improved chile pepper? With the fear of genetically modified foods at an all-time high, it's not surprising that some are apprehensive. Yet researchers are quick to point out that knowing what genes are available in a chile pepper doesn't mean introducing foreign DNA. This means that the peppers would not be genetically modified organisms.

"What the sequence provides us is a crucial part of the instruction manual for how to breed a better chile pepper plant. One can now find where genes that underlie certain traits are located and, thus, one has the tools for how to breed those desired traits into new cultivars," said Paul Bosland, one of the researchers, in an interview with Southwest Farm Press.

As more plants continue to be sequenced, it's possible that the U.S. is on an edge of a new agricultural revolution that will allow growers to better target certain genes.

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