UCF Botanical Society to Create Improved Peppers Through Plant Breeding Project | New

Hani Hassan, biology major (right), and Julia Dreistadt, biology major (left), present the plant breeding initiative to the volunteers on Friday. Students explain the role of volunteers and the possibility of getting involved in a research project that began in 2019.

The UCF Botanical Society is working on a plant breeding initiative to create a great tasting pepper with medicinal value.

The Plant Breeding Initiative, a project of the Department of Biology, is carried out by students in the plant sciences sector. Chase Mason, associate professor of biology and academic advisor, said the project involves combining phenotypic and genotypic data to make targeted crosses.

Mason said phenotypic data refers to the physical traits of an organism and genotypic data refers to a set of DNA responsible for those unique traits. The exchange makes it possible to cross specific traits and characteristics of the pepper.

The project began in 2019, when Mason said the group first decided which plant to grow.

“The first year was kind of a year of planning; we weren’t sure what we should be working on,” Mason said. “So what I asked the students to do was come up with a hundred ideas and narrow them down, so we came up with peppers. Mainly because it was easy to grow, good for this climate , truly diverse, culinary and culturally significant on a global scale.

Mason said the pepper choices weren’t wasted. He said that in addition to the ease of cultivation of this type of plant, it is culturally important for many types of countries.

“We’re in Central Florida, which is a very diverse area, and there’s a lot of awesome food traditions that have come together in Central Florida,” Mason said. “And peppers are important to a lot of them, whether you’re talking about South Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and South America. All kinds of peppers are used differently, so that seemed relevant.”

The PBI is run by seniors and volunteers who help in different areas, such as maintaining the plants in the hoop, spreading (removing seeds) and fruit phenotyping (collecting data on plants such as height, wing length and other traits), according to organizers.

“The main goal of the initiative is simply to create a new crop of peppers,” said Anisa Khalid, a biology major and one of the student leaders of the project. “In 2019 when it started, they had initial growth, so they grew these 92 different pepper trees, and they were still growing when I joined them.”

Khalid said students who have joined in recent years have been harvesting peppers from these plants ever since.

“One of the goals of the project is to train students to do some kind of plant science project and give them experience that will help them find jobs,” Mason said. “The other is to make peppers better in taste, in strength, and even in medicinal areas.”

Along with the possibility of creating a new type of pepper that could even be useful in medicine, project officials say it’s a great research opportunity for undergraduate students.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for undergraduate students to engage in research and take initiative. If we have a result that can become an article, the students will have their names in it,” said Keivan Bahmani, postdoctoral advisor in biology.

Mason said the volunteers come from a variety of fields, but some biology majors are particularly keen on PBI.

“I’m excited and hope to learn how to raise things, take care of plants and manage your garden,” said second-year biology student Sarah Lachnicht.

Khalid said at the time the project was in a transition period as they had eliminated all the plants they had grown this summer to begin a targeted breeding goal. In the coming weeks, she said the group will sprout plants.

Khalid said that in October the initiative would resume and they would focus on selecting and creating a different chili.

“My short-term goal, of course, is to bring out these super parents, which have stack resistances, but in the end it would be really cool to have a full development of new cultivars from the PBI, so a pepper that we created, which stands out from all the other peppers,” Khalid said.