December 21, 2005

Students Work to Create New Pepper Species

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Two Dickinson State University students are attempting to create a fast-growing and prolific pepper species.

Three times a week, Dena Ehli and Jennifer Robinette manage the university's new greenhouse, as investigators in a botany experiment called the "pepper project."

"What we're trying to do, actually, is produce a plant that will produce a lot of peppers in a short-growing season," Ehli said.

Robinette has the same goals but focuses more on the short-term goals.

"We've just got to keep them alive pretty much," she said.

The woman, both seniors, seeded 160 pepper plants on Sept. 30. The seeds, a cross of the Hungarian Hot Wax and the earliest Red Sweet peppers, are the filial generation, which means they are the first offspring.

Although the peppers may have hybrid traits after the first generation, the project aims to look at the second generation, where the traits will be more prevalent.

Ehli and Robinette record the ambient temperature of the greenhouse, the average soil temperature, the average length of the pepper plant and the maturation of each plant. They also water the plants.

Because a crossbreed project involving peppers has not been done in North Dakota before, there are a lot of unknowns. For example, they don't know how soon the plants will produce peppers.

Robinette said the project almost never happened because they had seeded the plants and it took longer than they had expected for them to germinate. She said they planned to wait one more day before scrapping the seeds and starting over, when the plants first peeked through the soil.

The project involves two different crossbreeds so the students can compare the groups. One group was bred with the pollen from the hot wax placed on the pistil of the red sweet. The second group was bred with the pollen from the red sweet and placed on the pistil of the hot wax.

"Once they become peppers, we'll be able to tell the difference," Ehli said.

For now, they keep the plants separated because they look the same.

If the pepper project is a success, the students will not sell the seeds commercially. They said the peppers are meant to be given to people like backyard gardeners.

Professor Deborah DeMarey, who acts as the consultant for the project, said the students are getting more out of the project than growing peppers.

She hopes the students will be able to present their results at various stages to the North Dakota Academy of Science, North Dakota State University and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

"The whole idea of this project is to bring universities together," she said. "Students have a chance to work with colleagues."

She said Ehli and Robinette are conducting important research.

"The peppers will kind of be a side benefit," she said.


Information from: The Dickinson Press,