The Chili Project

Rob Dunn Lab | The Science of Farm to Table


It’s impossible to think of Indian cuisine without thinking of chilies. They’re such a fundamental part of all Indian dishes that it’s hard to imagine they aren’t originally from India at all. Columbus and other spice traders first brought them over to Asia and the Indian subcontinent from Central America in the 15th century.

Chilies are important spice in India and they play a major role in our everyday lives. While we know quite a lot about different varieties of chilies, their diseases, their production type and how hot they are, we know little on their adaptation in India, who pollinates their flowers to transform into fruits like those spicy green, red, yellow or purple chilies. Moreover, what insects pollinate them in the home gardens of urban, suburban and rural areas in different regions of the Indian subcontinent?

This is where the Chili Project comes in. We are interested in learning about how the insects carry pollen from one small white flower to the other flower. Participants in this project will learn about bees, butterflies and other insects that come to the flowers. They will learn about different stages lifecycle of plants and how do the plants grow, and will be able to connect with natural world within the their homes and local area. Participants will also learn about where their foods come from. This project will help the scientists learn and understand interactions between insects and chili plants in various part of the subcontinent which otherwise would be difficult to study by one or a few scientists.

Lessons for Students



Kaberi Kar Gupta, visiting scientist at NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Twitter: @lorises