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Pepper pill gets to root of deer problem

U. MINNESOTA (US)—Delivering hot pepper concentrate right to the roots keeps pesky deer and mice from devouring plants before they make it to the dinner table. And unlike spray deterrents, it can’t wash off.

Tom Levar, a forestry and horticulture specialist at the University of Minnesota, adapted a plant formulation of Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) to move different types of protection chemicals through easily accessible plant pores.

DMSO is traditionally used in veterinary and sports medicine to open pores in a membrane and move medicines through skin.

Tablets are placed near the roots of a plant and, when watered, release a natural hot pepper concentrate known as capsicum that is absorbed by the plant, making it inedible.

“This is a great application because capsicum is very safe and very effective,” Levar says. “There is no genetic modification. Eventually the plant will outgrow the capsicum treatment, but it lasts much longer than spray repellents.”

Systemic plant conditioning composition, as the technology is formally known, can also be used with insecticides or fungicides.

“That includes anything within the realm of plant protection that includes small molecule active ingredients,” Levar says. He started his research on the DMSO formulation with a bitter substance used to keep children from sucking their thumb.

“We did a lot of testing, mostly with tree growers in nurseries where they have a huge problem with mice eating away at their plants,” says Elizabeth Summa, president of Repellex USA, which licensed the technology.

“We think professional growers and homeowners will find value in planting two tablets with their trees and not having to worry about their investment.”

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