Spicy News: Scientists Sequence Chile Pepper Genome
February 8, 2013

Spicy News: Scientists Sequence Chile Pepper Genome

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

This week, geneticists from the New Mexico State University´s Chile Pepper Institute announced they have successfully completed the genomic sequencing of the chile pepper, marking the first time the feat has ever been done with the famously spicy plant.

“This puts NMSU and the Chile Pepper Institute on the cutting edge with a new level of research,” Paul Bosland, an NMSU professor and director of the Institute, said in a statement. “This gives us a tool for mapping genes that we didn´t have before. Having a sequenced genome will unlock the genetic secrets of the chile pepper providing a powerful tool to examine previously unimagined questions and will accelerate efforts to breed improved cultivars.”

To complete the arduous task of sequencing the chile´s genome, NMSU graduate student Greg Reeves traveled to Seoul National University in South Korea to collaborate with geneticist Doil Choi. Choi´s laboratory uses a cutting edge Illumina sequencer, which amplifies small DNA samples and sequences them at a rapid pace.

According to the Illumina website, their newest sequencer has achieved a “600-fold increase in throughput in less than five years.”

Bosland said the analysis showed that the chile pepper has about 3.5 billion base pairs, adding up to around 37,000 chile pepper genes. By comparison, the human genome contains 3 billion base pairs and 20,000 to 25,000 protein-coding genes.

“Analysis of the chile pepper genome sequence data provides a new and very powerful foundation for breeding future generations of chile pepper cultivars more quickly and more precisely,” Bosland said. “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.”

According to Bosland, one of the first steps toward a more robust chile plant will be examining disease resistance to phytophthora, a group of plant-damaging water molds responsible for the condition known as chile wilt. The disease is one of the leading problems for chile growers in New Mexico, damaging 30 percent of New Mexico´s chile harvest in 2006.

Bosland added that the genome will provide other clues on how to maximize the chile crop, including using less agricultural water and insect resistance.

He said chile peppers might even be improved to better treat human diseases, such as vitamin A deficiency–the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and pregnant women.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in over half of all countries, particularly in Africa and South-East Asia.

“Lack of vitamin A is a public health issue in more than half of all countries in the world,” Bosland said. “Severe lack of vitamin A causes hundreds of thousands of unnecessary cases of blindness in the world. Breeding chile peppers with increased levels of pro-vitamin A is one potential solution that can help end this health problem.”