At the risk of disappointing you, we didn't win any Nobel Prizes for our MASTARI French hot sauces. Nevertheless, we're going to tell you the story of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine, which probably wouldn't have gone to David Julius if chilli hadn't existed!

     In a previous article (see "Why do chillies burn?"), we explained how chillies link up with specific receptors on our taste buds to send our brains a nerve signal responsible for the sensation of heat and burning.

     David Julius, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco (USA), used capsaicin, the active component in chillies that causes the burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that reacts to heat. By analyzing millions of DNA fragments and genes linked to sensory neurons, they identified just one that reacted to capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Going a step further, the researchers were able to understand how this gene reacted to chilli, a bit like a heat sensor.

     With his team, they then continued to draw inspiration from nature to extend their understanding of touch: they looked at the sensation of cold thanks to menthol, then that of inflammation thanks to wasabi.


David Julius, Prix nobel de médecine 2021 pour son étude sur les effets du piment sur le toucher

     In addition, the knowledge developed by David Julius "has led to the development of treatments for many diseases, including chronic pain", stressed the Nobel committee in its press release.

      The next time you're asked to justify your addiction to chilli, you can answer that you're serving science!


Sources : Sciencesetavenir.fr, Piment et étreintes : les inspirations des prix Nobel de médecine 2021, Agence France Presse, 04/10/2021

Huffingtonpost.fr, Le prix Nobel de médecine 2021 a quelque chose à voir avec le piment rouge, Grégory Rozières, 04/10/2021

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