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Where the wild veggies are
Date:7/20/2010

the seventh species of flowering plant to have its genome sequenced completely, being preceded by such agricultural heavyweights as rice and grapevine. Over the past 10 years, thousands of scientific papers on the biology of cucumbers and melons have appeared. Many of these studies have used these species as model systems to investigate the mechanism of sex determination during floral development. The question of the genetic origins of the genus Cucumis, on the other hand, has received comparatively little attention (the business about the Romans cultivating cucumber is wrong; I can send you a paper on this topic if you are interested). The general consensus among botanists has been that the melon originated in Africa, because putative wild ancestors of the cultivated variety had been identified there. It now turns out that none of these forms is ancestral to the melons we find in our markets and shops.

"We analyzed specific segments of the genetic material from herbarium specimens of more than 100 Cucumis species. The samples we used had been collected at various locations in Africa, Australia and Asia", reports Patrizia Sebastian, who is the first author on the new study. "It turned out that the closest living wild relative of the cultivated melon is a native of Australia. The two lines diverged about 3 million years ago, and they last shared a common ancestor with their more distant relatives in Asia and Australia about 10 million years ago." The total number of Cucumis species found in Asia and Australia is now around 25, and they branched off from their African relatives some 12 million years ago.

Nine of the 25 species were identified for the first time in the new study. Renner and her colleagues are preparing formal systematic descriptions of the new species for a specialized journal. Taken together, the results argue that the common ancestor of cucumber and melon originated on the continent of Asia. Possible ancestral
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Contact: Professor Susanne Renner
renner@lrz.uni-muenchen.de
49-891-786-1257
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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