Geneticists have suggested editing the genome of the humble tomato to turn it into a factory producing the compounds that give chillies their heat – and capsicum spray its immobilising power.
In a paper published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, a team led by Agustin Zsögön of the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil point out that chillies – the source of the fiery capsaicinoids popular with gourmets and law-enforcement personnel alike – are challenging to grow in large amounts.
Their distant evolutionary cousins, tomatoes, on the other hand, grow easily in a wide range of conditions.
The two species split from a common ancestor some 19 million years ago and pursued different evolutionary strategies. Tomatoes developed rich, mild fruits, attractive to many animals, and are thus distributed abundantly via myriad digestive systems.