Bugs put the heat in chili peppers

Posted on November 7, 2008 

Bugs put the heat in chili peppers

Fruits use sugars and lipids to attract consumers such as birds that will scatter the seeds. But insects and fungi enjoy sugars and lipids too, and in tandem they can be fatal to a pepper’s progeny.

However, the researchers found that the pungency, or heat, in hot chilies acts as a unique defense mechanism. The pungency comes from capsaicinoids, the same chemicals that protect them from fungal attack by dramatically slowing microbial growth.

“Capsaicin doesn’t stop the dispersal of seeds because birds don’t sense the pain and so they continue to eat peppers, but the fungus that kills pepper seeds is quite sensitive to this chemical,” said Tewksbury, lead author of a paper documenting the research.

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