Peppers To Die For: These "Hot" Plants Could
Protect Strawberriesand More By
August 29, 2003
What's the connection between fiery cayenne peppers that give
heat to Creole cuisine, and the sweet, juicy strawberries of summertime?
A potent substance found in cayenne peppers may someday be used
by growers to battle the costly molds that can spoil strawberry, blueberry and
grape crops. Last year, Agricultural
Research Service scientists received a patent for a novel fungicide, called
CAY-1, which is derived from cayenne peppers. Now they are looking to find out
how well its fungal-fighting powers work on strawberry molds.
Anthony De Lucca, a microbiologist at ARS'
Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., teamed up with plant
pathologists David Wedge at ARS'
Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, Miss., and Barbara Smith at
the agency's Small Fruit
Research Station, Poplarville, Miss., to test CAY-1's efficacy on fungi
that afflict strawberries. With a year of promising plant and laboratory
results behind them, the scientists are conducting greenhouse studies that may
pave the way to CAY-1's commercial availability.
De Lucca isolated the CAY-1 saponin in his lab five years ago,
while searching for natural compounds to shield crops from infesting fungi.
Found widely in plants, saponins have detergent properties, causing them to
foam when shaken with water. Like laundry detergent that works by penetrating a
fabric's fiber, the cayenne saponin breaches fungal cells by forming little
holes along cell membranes.
CAY-1 has been shown to be active at low levels against
Collectotrichum and Phomopsis, two economically important fungal
pathogens affecting strawberries and other small fruits. In strawberries,
Phomopsis causes serious leaf blight and fruit disease.
But CAY-1's potential doesn't stop at crops. This powerful
natural derivative could support a range of applications, says De Lucca.
Possible uses include a mosquito larvacide, a molluscicide to rein in the
prolific zebra mussel that's fouling water supplies in the Great Lakes, and a
mildew-zapping bathroom product.
Already attracting industry attention, CAY-1's antifungal
activity is the focus of studies by several commercial companies. ARS is
providing the cooperators with the cayenne extract.
ARS is USDA's chief
scientific research agency.