Watermelon, one of the most important and popular fruits in the world, with an annual production of over 200 million tons worldwide, seems to have its origins in Northeast Africa, specifically in the Kordofan region of Sudan, according to a new scientific study that rewrites the history of watermelon and is believed to put an end to decades of controversy over its origin.
Researchers from Britain and the United States, led by Dr. Guillaume Chomiski of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, who conducted genetic analysis and published it in the journal National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), discovered that the wild is considered the oldest and closest relative of today’s domesticated watermelon.
The discovery explains why today’s watermelons are so vulnerable to disease, as – as genetic analysis shows – in the course of its evolution the domesticated watermelon lost many resistant genes. Watermelons are susceptible to attacks by viruses and fungi, which is why in conventional agriculture they are often sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals against pathogenic microorganisms.
Because the ancient ancestor of the watermelon from Sudan has more disease-resistant genes, the analysis of its genome is hoped to help grow more resistant watermelons in the future, which will also help reduce pesticides.
The researchers also studied ancient iconography in tombs in neighboring Egypt, revealing that the Egyptians cultivated watermelons at least 4,300 years ago. However, scientists estimate that watermelons, melons and cucumbers were domesticated separately and began to be cultivated several times in different seasons and parts of the world.