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Finding fire: Scientists trace chiles’ DNA to Mexico

By: Ryan Van Velzer, azcentral.com

An international team of researchers has determined that Domesticated chiles come from a valley in east-central Mexico,(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

An international team of researchers has determined that Domesticated chiles come from a valley in east-central Mexico,(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

An international team that includes a University of Arizona researcher has delved into the DNA of the chile and found its Eden: a valley in east-central Mexico where indigenous farmers domesticated the fiery pepper more than 6,500 years ago.

The team, using linguistic and ecological evidence as well as archaeological and genetic data, traced the ancestry of the first domesticated chiles to the Tehuacan Valley stretching from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, where indigenous people speaking the Oto-Manguean language stock began cultivating them about 70 centuries ago.

The findings have important implications for understanding nutrition-related diseases, the use of crops for health benefits and crop resiliency in a changing global climate.

“Identifying the origin of the chile pepper is not just an academic exercise,” said University of California-Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts, senior author of the study. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species.”

University of Arizona ethnobioligist Gary Nabhan of the UA Southwest Center said the finding “better equips us to develop sound genetic-conservation programs.”

That information, researchers said, will be critical as scientists work to deal with climate change and provide food for a rapidly increasing global population.

The team, which included scientists in Illinois, France, Mexico and Kenya, will publish its findings in the April 29 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The information will be critical as scientists work to deal with climate change and provide food for a rapidly increasing global population.

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