Water cranks up the heat in chillies

2011-12-21 16:36
Paris - Scientists on Wednesday said they had solved a puzzle over why some wild chilli plants yield red-hot fruit but others have fruit which is mild.

The answer lies in exposure to water, they reported in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The fiery ingredient in chillies is capsaicinoid, which the fruit exudes to protect itself against a nasty damp-loving fungus called Fusarium.

Researchers led by David Haak of Indiana University went to Bolivia to check capsaicinoid levels in chillies growing along a 300km line.

In the dryer northeast part of the section, only 15 to 20% of the plants had pungent fruit.

The pungency level increased along the line to the wetter southwest, where eventually 100% of plants produced high-capsaicinoid fruit.

High-pungency chilies pay a price - a "tradeoff" in evolutionary biology - for being able to ward off the fungus.

They produce half as many seeds as low-pungency chillies, which produce more seeds to boost chances of reproductive success in dry conditions.

The study looked at a wild strain of chilli, Capsicum chacoense, which is native to South America and has never been cultivated.

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2015-04-22 07:36

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