Don’t eat the pepper-flavored paint

A derivative of capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their fiery flavor, could soon find its way into products as diverse as marine paint, veterinary sutures, and fiber-optic cables. This month, scientists at the Burlington Bio-Medical and Scientific Corp. in Farmingdale, N.Y., announced that they have developed a way to make large quantities of denatonium capsaicinate.

In addition to being painfully spicy, denatonium capsaicinate tastes intensely bitter, says Melvin Blum, director of research and development at Burlington. Scientists are therefore targeting the compound for applications as an animal deterrent.

Adding denatonium capsaicinate to the paint used on boats prevents barnacles from sticking to the hull. The standard agent used now for this purpose is tributyl tin, says Blum. Many countries, however, are banning its use because the tin can leach out, poison shellfish, and thus endanger human health. Despite its formidable flavor, denatonium capsaicinate is nontoxic and environmentally benign, according to Blum.

Other applications include adding the compound to the material used in veterinary sutures. The bitter, spicy taste may deter pets from licking and disturbing a healing wound. Also, a peppery polymer coating for fiber-optic cables could stop pesky rodents from gnawing at them.

The Burlington scientists synthesized denatonium capsaicinate from the anesthetic lidocaine and capsaicin. Because it numbs pain and produces warmth, the compound may prove useful as an ingredient in an arthritis rub.

More Stories from Science News on Chemistry