(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have sequenced the DNA of an ancient watermelon and found that it contains the oldest plant genome in the world.
A new study has found that scientists have sequenced the oldest known plant genome, and it comes from watermelon seeds eaten by Stone Age sheep herders in the Sahara.
Watermelon seeds 6,000 years old were discovered in the 1990s during archaeological excavations in a cave called One Muhuggiag.
Due to the dry, salty air in the cave, the seeds that supposedly fell to the ground were perfectly preserved, according to a study published by scientists in the journal Molecular Biology.
This allowed scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the United Kingdom, to sequence their DNA.
The study of the genome also showed that the seeds belonged to the wild watermelon, one of the oldest African crops, and likely contained “sickeningly bitter flesh.”
This discovery is important because it provides information about the domestication of the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), which translates to “eat something sweet” that we enjoy today.
As part of the study, the researchers also sequenced the genomes of dozens of watermelon species that are part of Kew Garden’s vast collections.
According to the study, scientists found that pastoralists either deliberately harvested or cultivated this bitter-fleshed watermelon.
This discovery is supported by tooth marks found on some of the oldest seeds collected in Sudan.
In another study, researchers identified genetic mutations that gave the ancient watermelon its bitter properties, as well as its recognizable bright red flesh today.
However, it is not known at what point in history the watermelon began to resemble the fruit found in today’s grocery stores.
Scientists have not found a logical explanation for why someone needed to eat the seeds of such a bitter fruit?
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