Researchers: Map of chile pepper genome could help end ‘unnecessary’ cases of blindness

February 08, 2013

Researchers: Map of chile pepper genome could help end ‘unnecessary’ cases of blindness

Researchers hope to unlock genetic secrets of the chile pepper.

Researchers from New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute and South Korea have developed the first high-resolution draft of the chile pepper genome. New data from the genome map could eventually help end “unnecessary” cases of blindness by giving breeders the information they need to determine how to breed chile peppers with higher levels of vitamin A.

“This puts NMSU and the Chile Pepper Institute on the cutting edge with a new level of research,” said Paul Bosland, an NMSU Regents Professor and director of the university’s Chile Pepper Institute, 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.”

According to Bosland, the genome map could help the New Mexico chile pepper industry make chile peppers better so that the plants can adapt to climate change, use less water and resist insects and diseases. The genome map could also help researchers determine more effective ways of treating human diseases.

“Lack of vitamin A is a public health issue in more than half of all countries in the world,” Bosland added. “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.”

NMSU graduate student Greg Reeves worked with professor Doil Choi of Seoul National University to develop a map of the chile pepper genome. Choi and Reeves used an Illumina sequencer, which can complete the same amount of genetic processing work in far less time than in previously took.

According to the Wellcome Trust,  an Illumina sequencer can sequence DNA approximately 20 times cheaper than the old 454 technology and take just half a day to read one gigabase. An Illumina sequencer can also run more samples simultaneousy.

“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.”

Researchers note that organic farmers should be able to grow the new cultivars because the genome map will allow scientists to change the chile peppers own DNA, instead of introducing foreign DNA.

According to Bosland, researchers will first use the new data to study disease resistance to phytophthora, one of the biggest problems for chile growers in New Mexico.

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