By this point in the summer, I’d wager I’m about 40% watermelon by volume. Since it’s one of the season’s most perfect (and versatile fruits, I generally spend more time eating watermelon than thinking about it! Thankfully, researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute were more than happy to do the latter. They’ve just published news that they’ve sequenced watermelon’s “super pan-genome;” that is, a thorough map of its genes and those of its nearest relatives. In doing so, they’ve uncovered some genetic variations that support disease resistance, that were lost long ago during the domestication process.
“‘We aimed to delve deeper into the genetic variations that make watermelons so diverse and unique,” stated Professor Zhangjun Fei, the study’s lead author. “Our findings not only provide insights into the evolutionary journey of watermelons but also present significant implications for breeding and disease resistance.’
The watermelon super-pangenome was built using reference genome sequences and genome resequencing data from 547 watermelon accessions spanning four species—cultivated watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) and its wild relatives C. mucosospermus, C. amarus, and C. colocynthis.”
Now that science knows more about the genetic history of watermelons, we can re-incorporate bits of code through breeding, that would more robust and disease-resistant fruit. As other crops have shown us, backing away from monoculture is a good thing! I hope this news means we’ll have watermelons aplenty in the summers to come.
The researchers are keen to apply their findings to vegetarian and vegan frozen items, to increase their shelf-life—and their long-term flavour. I’m a huge fan of both! It may be too late for that bag of peas I’ve had rattling around in the back of my freezer for a couple of seasons… But, once I enjoy this growing season to the last drop, I look forward to replacing it with an ice-proof version, and tasting the difference!