University of Washington ecologist Joshua Tewskbury spends much of his time on a quest for wild chili peppers. Fueled by coca leaves, he is seeking answers to questions about the evolution of the plants, specifically why wild chilis are hot. In central Bolivia, Tewksbury is exploring the natural function of capsaicin, the heat-generating chemical found in the plant. Smithsonian's Brendan Borrell recently went into the forest with him. From Smithsonian (Wikimedia Commons photo)
Bolivia is believed to be the chili's motherland, home to dozens of wild species that may be the ancestors of all the world's chili varieties–from the mild bell pepper to the medium jalapeño to the rough-skinned naga jolokia, the hottest pepper ever tested. The heat-generating compound in chilies, capsaicin, has long been known to affect taste buds, nerve cells and nasal membranes (it puts the sting in pepper spray). But its function in wild chili plants has been mysterious.
Which is why Tewksbury and his colleagues have made multiple trips to Bolivia over the past four years. They're most interested in mild chilies, especially those growing near hot ones of the same species–the idea being that a wild chili lacking capsaicin might serve as a kind of exception that proves the rule, betraying the secret purpose of this curiously beloved spice...
"Capsaicin demonstrates the incredible elegance of evolution," says Tewksbury. The specialized chemical deters microbes–humans harness this ability when they use chilies to preserve food–but capsaicin doesn't deter birds from eating chili fruits and spreading seeds. "Once in a while, the complex, often conflicting demands that natural selection places on complex traits results in a truly elegant solution. This is one of those times."
"What's So Hot About Chili Peppers?
We just got the Sport model of the EPIKGO hoverboard at my office. Besides being terribly chic, it’s apparently bulletproof.
Ok, it’s not just solar powered. It’s also an anti-theft, waterproof marvel that keeps my phone’s power bar from ever getting into the red.Sure the idea seems obvious now – tuck a gigantic solar powered battery pack into an exposed slot and turn the wearer into a walking energy harvester. Simple maybe, but I didn’t […]
The office I work in is full of things old people buy to make themselves feel young again. I can honestly say that our awesome new toy, The Swagtron T3 Hoverboard, makes me feel very, very old. I’ll explain why later. Swagtron T3 Pros There’s no way to overcharge the battery and that means no […]
Although there will never be a consensus about the best way to make coffee, any coffee connoisseur will agree that controlling the grind of your beans and balancing water temperature are the keys to a tasty cup. Since your plastic coffee pot doesn’t really allow for that kind of customization, going back to the French […]
Not all hackers are malicious information thieves—white-hat ethical hackers work with technology companies to ensure the security of their computer systems and user data. With all of today’s high-profile data breaches, ethical hackers are in considerable demand. To learn these critical skills and break into the high-paying cyber security field, try taking the courses in this […]
Making people aware of goods and services in the digital age requires an array of new strategies from social media and email to number-crunching tools like Google Analytics. To get a handle on the techniques used to capture attention and convert traffic into dollars in a crowded online environment, the Full-Stack Marketer Bundle offers 22 hours of training to get […]