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New genetic study confirms Indian origins of pumpkins and cucumbers

It had been suggested that the origin of pumpkins and cucumbers can be traced back to India. This has now been confirmed on the basis of genetic analyses performed by German and Indian botanists. The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Vegetables are essential components of a healthy daily diet, not just in India but around the globe. Compared to grains and pulses, however, vegetables are under-investigated taxonomically, and information on their genome is scarce. The cucumber family, Cucurbitaceae, includes many of our favorite foods: pumpkins, melon, cucumber, watermelon, bottle gourds, and bitter gourd. Molecular data have recently revealed that both cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) and melon (Cucumis melo L.) are indigenous to India and likely to have originated from the foothills of the Himalayas.

Arun Pandey from the Department of Botany, University of Delhi, India and Susanne Renner from the Departments of Systematic Botany and Mycology, University of Munich, Germany decided to produce a checklist of the Cucurbitaceae of India that would bring up-to-date the information available for that family. The list treats 400 relevant names and provides information on the collecting locations for all type specimens. The list includes 94 species (10 of them endemic to India) from 31 genera.

For each species, the checklist provides distributional information, electronic links to images of living or dried plants, and information on publicly available DNA sequences. Of the 94 species, 79% have DNA sequences in GenBank, albeit rarely stemming from Indian material. The most species-rich genera are Trichosanthes with 22 species, Cucumis with 11 (all but two wild), and the bitter gourd genus, Momordica, with eight. The checklist also includes a phylogenetic reconstruction of the family that shows the DNA-based placement of the 31 Indian genera relative to the World's remaining Cucurbitaceae.

Dr. Suzanne Renner, one of the authors of the article, comments: "Updating and summarising the available information on Indian Cucurbitaceae and linking it to molecular data and images may help to focus phylogenetic and floristic research on poorly known species, and potentially strengthen conservation efforts. It may also provide vital genetic information to improve the current varieties of pumpkins, cucumbers, and their relatives."

Contact: Susanne Renner
Pensoft Publishers

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