Current gene-editing techniques may allow scientists to create tomatoes that produce capsaicinoids.
According to plant biologist Agustin Zsögön, Federal University of Viçosa, “Engineering the capsaicinoid genetic pathway to the tomato would make it easier and cheaper to produce this compound, which has very interesting applications. We have the tools powerful enough to engineer the genome of any species; the challenge is to know which gene to engineer and where.”
There are at least 23 different types of capsaicinoids, which originate from the pith of the chili pepper. The spiciness of a pepper is determined by the genes that regulate capsaicinoid production, and less pungent peppers have mutations affecting this process. Previous gene-sequencing work has shown that tomatoes have the genes necessary for capsaicinoids but don’t have the machinery to turn them on.
“In theory you could use these genes to produce capsaicinoids in the tomato,” said Zsögön. “Since we don’t have solid data about the expression patterns of the capsaicinoid pathway in the tomato fruit, we have to try alternative approaches. One is to activate candidate genes one at a time and see what happens, which compounds are produced.”