15 Aug 2015

Condiment evolution

From This Way Up, 1:50 pm on 15 August 2015
Cabbage caterpillar

Cabbage caterpillar Photo: James K. Lindsey (CC BY-SA 2.5)

If you enjoy the pungent bite and nose-watering qualities of wasabi, horseradish or mustard then you can thank the humble caterpillar!

In the pre-sushi period, some 90 million years ago, the ancient ancestors of brassicas like mustards and cabbage developed a chemical defence systems to scare off the bugs and insects that were eating them.

The insects evolved to handle more and more of the chemicals, and in turn the plants produced more chemicals.

Chris Pires of the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri is tracking this evolutionary arms race.