Genetically enhanced peppers storm the market

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Israel

Genetically enhanced hybrid peppers that can be raised with minimal
protection under moderate winter conditions have achieved worldwide
commercial success, according to the team behind the concept.

The robust pepper varieties, developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, widen the ecological conditions under which the vegetable can be grown.

They also facilitate the use of simple greenhouses and netting instead of expensive structures, in order to achieve cost advantages.

The new hybrid peppers, which come in various colours, have been raised to produce high yields under night time conditions as low as 10 degrees celcius. This is much lower than previous hybrids that required temperatures higher than 18 degrees celcius and needed costly heating to grow and develop.

Pepper is one of the world's major vegetable crops, especially in regions such as the Middle East, and the breakthrough has already made an impact.

The hybrids developed by the researchers which to a large extent have replaced seed varieties formerly imported into Israel from Holland have been commercialised through Yissum, the Hebrew University's technology transfer company, and are sold worldwide by the Zeraim Gedera seed company.

In 2005, sales of the hybrid seeds amounted to $9.5 million and are expected to increase. In the Arava alone, 50 per cent of red pepper seeds used are those developed at the Hebrew University, and have contributed significantly to the profitability of farmers in that region.

Overall, in the 2004-05 growing season, pepper exports from Israel amounted to $80 million and constituted the leading vegetable export from the country.

The breeding project involved large-scale experiments with more than 25,000 plants a year, grown in target areas, mainly in the Arava region of southern Israel and the south of Spain. Dr. Elkind noted that vegetable production under mild winter conditions and using simple plastic or net protection is one of the most rapidly expanding, protective cultivation systems worldwide.

The major areas which use this production method, in addition to Israel and Spain, are Mexico and China.

The peppers were developed by a research team headed by Dr Yonatan Elkind of the Robert H Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Rehovot.

The research receives financial support from and is carried out in collaboration with the Zeraim Gedera company. For his work, Dr. Elkind is a recipient of one of this year's Kaye Innovation Awards, which was presented at the Hebrew University's 69th Board of Governors meeting yesterday.

The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University have been awarded annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.

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