Researchers at New Mexico State University are working to develop more nutritious and better-yielding chile pepper varieties to improve overall productivity in the nation’s top chile-producing state.
Dennis Nicuh Lozada, NMSU’s chile pepper breeder and director of the Chile Pepper Breeding and Genetics Program, is leading the four-year project, funded by a $477,074 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Lozada, who joined NMSU’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences in 2020, said the project’s goal is to develop chile pepper varieties with improved nutritional quality and yield through a deeper understanding of the genetic basis underlying these traits.
“The genetics of nutritional content and yield in New Mexican chile peppers is currently not well understood,” Lozada said. “We hope to understand the genetics of higher-yielding and more nutritious chile peppers. This knowledge can help drive our breeding and selection decisions.”
Work on the project began this spring at NMSU’s Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center in Las Cruces. Lozada’s research team is using two novel genomic approaches – genome-wide association studies and genomic selection – to accelerate the selection, breeding and development of chile pepper varieties with improved nutritional content and yield.
“We already have data available and published some of our findings,” Lozada said. “We have the DNA sequence information, and we will be growing our population over the next few years for multi-location, multi-year data analysis.”
The project has three objectives, Lozada said. First, the researchers will use genome-wide association studies to identify genetic markers linked with fruit morphology, nutritional content and yield in New Mexican chile peppers. Next, they will implement genomic selection for fruit morphology, yield and nutritional quality-related traits and evaluate the effects of different factors on genomic selection accuracy.
“The interesting part with the genomic selection is that you can actually predict which lines can perform better,” Lozada said. “So even before planting in the field, you already have an idea which chile pepper would have the ‘best’ traits.”
Finally, the researchers will develop molecular markers that improve fruit morphology and nutritional content in chile peppers.
“Altogether, these genomics-assisted approaches could help accelerate the development of chile pepper varieties with improved fruit morphology, nutritional quality and yield for an increased overall production,” Lozada said.
Lozada said higher-yielding and more nutritious varieties of New Mexican chile peppers will help improve overall chile pepper production in New Mexico. In 2020, growers in New Mexico produced a total of 68,000 tons of chile, valued at $51.9 million, according to the USDA and New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
“Chile pepper cultivars with improved genetic potential can help growers economically and help the industry compete with the world market,” he said.