The gene that makes mustard explosively spicyS

It takes a special species like Homo sapiens to devour something designed to fend off predators. Given our obsession with spiciness, it's astonishing that we haven't simply decided that eating thornbushes is truly delicious. Now that scientists have revealed the gene responsible for mustard spiciness, I predict we're in for some truly atomic GMO hot dog toppings.

Wild mustard (Boechera stricta) can vary intensely in levels of spice, and for the first time researchers have tracked down the exact cause. Just two amino acid changes in a single enzyme is the root of the change, and account for that variation.

It appears that this variability is a result of a case of hyper-specific population pressure. In the plant's native Rockies, environmental conditions and predatory insects can vary wildly. When plants carrying the enzyme variant from Colorado were transplanted into Montana, they were ravaged by the local herbivore insect population — and vice versa. Even though the same plant, some each location was directly suited for its environment.

Now we just have to wait for the genetically modified killer mustard that will inevitably follow this research.

Photo by Madlen via Shutterstock