And the Noble Prize in physiology and medicine goes to… chili peppers?

It’s the most prestigious award in the world, but did you know this year’s Noble Prize science award went to the ordinary chili pepper?

Well, kind of. The 2021 Nobel Prize in the fields of physiology and medicine actually went to two US-based scientists, Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius. Maybe this was the first time you’ve heard of them, but you probably know one of the research subjects pretty well.

It turns out, some of the research began with Julius and his work with capsaicin found in an ordinary chili pepper. That’s the thing that makes hot peppers burn, but Julius was actually more interested in nerve impulses, and how we perceive hot, cold, pressure and touch. Of course, it’s well known that capsaicin can trigger pain. His team then used some DNA fragments to narrow down the single gene that was causing sensitivity.

Patapoutian helped to discover sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli, felt as pressure and touch.

Research such as this could be used in the future to help develop new treatments for things like pain and potentially new drugs that treat certain diseases. Of course, capsaicin is already being used for pain relief in the form of creams and patches used to treat things like arthritis, muscle sprains and even migraines. Topically applied capsaicin products can help block the pain messages to your nerves. For many of us, though, chili peppers are the main ingredient when it comes to great tasting food and dishes. So whether you want a small boost in flavor or a punch of heat, you’ll find it when you add in some hot pepper sauces and other pepper infused products to mealtime. You may not win any awards yourself, but you and your friends are sure to feel the burn of a great tasting dish.

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