New research indicates that chili pepper plants may have developed their signature heat as a way to fight off fungal infections caused by insects. When insects bite into the flesh of a chili pepper, it provides an entry point for a microbial fungus known as Fusarium that can destroy the pepper plant’s seeds. Capsaicinoid chemicals produced by the pepper plant inhibit the growth of the fungus — and it’s those chemical compounds that also give chili peppers their spicy kick. In this segment, Ira talks with one of the researchers on the study about the work and what it means for lovers of fiery foods.
Joshua Tewksbury is an assistant professor of Biology at the University of Washington. He’s based in Seattle, Washington.