Should researchers engineer a spicy tomato?

The compound is used in the weapons industry for pepper spray, used for anaesthetics and there is some research showing that they promote weight loss.

The chili pepper and tomato could soon be united as one if scientists have their way with the nutritious fruits.

The chili and the tomato share some of the same DNA because they are long lost cousins, from an evolutionary perspective, splitting off from a common ancestor some 19 million years ago.

Researchers proposing this genetic engineering say their objective isn't to start a new culinary fad - although that's not completely off the table. While the tomato plant went on to have a fleshy, nutrient-rich fruit yielding bountiful harvests, the more agriculturally hard chilli plant went defensive, developing capsaicinoids, the molecules that give peppers their spiciness, to ward off predators.

Capsaicin has a number of uses that go beyond adding spice to your food.

There 23 known types of capsaicinoids and they are all believed to stem from the chilli pepper's pith.

Last year, the biologists already performed an experiment and "domesticated" a wild tomato by engineering the strain to grow a bigger fruit and produce a higher yield of the fruit with the use of gene editing.

Zsogon said, "All the genes to produce capsaicinoids exist in the tomato, they are just not active".

However, the process of genetically tweaking a tomato species to generate the compound naturally is challenging, and determining which genes are directly responsible for its production will take time.

'Since we don't have solid data about the expression patterns of the capsaicinoid pathway in the tomato fruit, we have to try alternative approaches.

But researchers in Brazil and Ireland say such methods also could offer practical advantages, with spicy tomatoes offering a way of harvesting capsaicinoids, the pungent chemicals found in chilli peppers. The researchers write that not only will this endeavour help better understand the evolution of this unique botanical trait and allow for the development of tomato capsaicinoid bio factories, but perhaps enable new varieties of produce to be sold in the grocery aisle.