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November 7, 2019

Better Melon

A new resource could help plant breeders increase watermelon’s quality and ability to thrive during an era of climate change. The project was co-led by Boyce Thompson Institute, the Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Watermelon slices.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: outdoor summer sounds) A summer day -- nothin' like diving slurp-first into a sugary-sweet slice of crisp refreshing (Sound effect: sluuurp) watermelon. (Sound effect: kids playing, spitting seeds) As kids we had seed-spitting contests and were careful not to swallow one, (Sound effect: gulp) 'cuz we knew a watermelon might grow in your stomach. (Sound effect: tymp)

Don't get many seeds anymore, and breeders have selected for redder, sweeter, juicier varieties -- even (Sound effect: aww) mini-melons. But in the long process of domestication, the fruit's lost some abilities to resist diseases and other types of stress.

An international team of researchers has done a comprehensive study of the genome of not only our familiar sweet species but the other six wild species of watermelon, which tend to be pale, hard and bitter.

The team first created an improved version of the watermelon reference genome then went on to sequence the genomes of 414 different watermelons representing all seven species. With their wide genetic diversity, the wild species might contain valuable genes to resist pests, disease and drought. The team also found regions of the genome that could have genes breeders can use to continue improving fruit quality -- think bigger, crispier, sweeter.

I'm tellin' ya guys, I still miss the seeds. (Sound effect: cartoon spittoon)

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