The birth of the domesticated chilli pepper – the world’s most widely grown spice crop – has been traced to central east Mexico, scientists say.
The study led by scientists from the University of California, Davis suggest a regional, rather than a geographically specific, birthplace for the domesticated chili pepper.
That region, extending from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, is further south than was previously thought, the researchers found.
The region also is different from areas of origin that have been suggested for common bean and corn, which were presumably domesticated in Western Mexico.
“Identifying the origin of the chili pepper is not just an academic exercise,” said UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts, the study’s senior author.
“By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture – a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” he said.
This information, in turn, will better equip scientists to develop sound genetic conservation programmes and increase the efficiency of breeding programmes.
This “will be critically important as we work to deal with climate change and provide food for a rapidly increasing global population,” Gepts added.
“This is the first research ever to integrate multiple lines of evidence in attempts to pinpoint where, when, under what ecological conditions, and by whom a major global spice plant was domesticated,” study co-author Gary P Nabhan, from the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center said.
Researchers used two traditional approaches but also considered historical languages, looking for the earliest linguistic evidence that a cultivated chili pepper existed.
They also developed a model for the distribution of related plant species, to predict the areas most environmentally suitable for the chili pepper and its wild ancestors.
The genetic evidence seemed to point more to northeastern Mexico as the chili pepper’s area of domestication; however there was collectively more evidence from all four lines of study supporting the central-east region as the area of origin, researchers said.
The finding was published in the journal PNAS.
– Business Standard