The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit previously eaten only with seeds

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The story of the watermelon that became the base . Why was this fruit used to be eaten only with seeds

A new study sheds light on the fruit's 6,000-year history.

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When prehistoric people sat in caves, they could eat a variety of foods. It could be fruits or vegetables, ordinary meat. If something from this fell to the ground, it would simply decompose. However, not in the case of the cave. The dry and salty air inside could store seeds for thousands of years.

This happened with the seeds of wild watermelon, found in the twentieth century at the site of One Muzuggiag. Now a team of scientists has sequenced one DNA from the seeds. It indicated that the inhabitants of the Sahara used it even before the domestication of the product, writes Smithsonian Magazine.

Synthesis of archeology and genetics

Watermelon is one of the most important berries today. As Focus wrote, he even became a kind of meme for Ukrainians during the war. How much do we know about its history? A recent study published in Molecular Biology and Evolution provides insight into the history of the watermelon.

It is believed that its seeds were consumed earlier. And that was long before the fruit became a sweet domesticated crop. Most likely, the watermelon had a sugary bitter pulp. New research has combined genetics and archaeology to improve knowledge of past plant species.

The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit eaten only with seeds before

The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit used to be eaten only with seeds

Geneticists have built evolutionary trees showing how the domesticated watermelon is related to wild and other plant species. This applies to pumpkins, zucchini, etc. Using this information, geneticists have crossed the domesticated watermelon with evolutionary relatives to develop varieties that are more resistant to diseases and pests.

At the same time, archaeologists have provided information about the diet and lifestyle of society in the past. In particular, this applies to food gatherers who have become farmers. They looked for ways to thaw and spread the seeds.

Why the ancestors paid attention to watermelon

Dorian Fuller, an archaeologist and botanist at University College London, says every domestication is an interesting question. Unlike wheat or corn, watermelon was not a staple food.

As a rule, watermelons and pumpkins were not eaten every day. Perhaps they were eaten the way they are today. It is speculated that early farms even pressed the seeds to make nourishing oil or hollowed out the skins into containers.

There is an assumption that people used to want to eat something sweet. Therefore, we must eat the domesticated species of watermelon of the genus Citrullus lanatus. But some relatives of the fruit are not sweet at all. There are 6 other types of watermelon native to Africa or the Middle East. In addition, the most distant relative is generally shaped like a vine and produces fruits that look like a spiked dog toy. And these fruits can create poison.

Scientists have discovered genetic mutations in Citrullus lanatus that explain its difference from wild forms. They concern the ability of the plant to produce a bitter compound, and the other concerns the redness of the flesh. But that doesn't answer the question of whether they originated before or after early farmers started growing watermelons. And questions remain whether people consumed the bitter pulp. Fuller had previously proposed the theory that people were attracted to the savory seeds. It contains edible fats. In addition, it can be transported for a long time.

How watermelon is related to pharaohs

Some of the earliest evidence of watermelon consumption dates back to the time of the pharaohs. In a 4,300-year-old tomb, a fresco shows an oblong fruit with green stripes. It is quite similar to Citrullus lanatus. The way other fruits are arranged on the table suggests that the Egyptians then consumed fruits for their pulp.

The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit eaten only with seeds before

The history of watermelon, which became the base. Why was this fruit eaten only with seeds before

But there are other data. In particular, the 3300-year-old tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun had 11 baskets with a mixture of jujube and watermelon seeds. Susanne Renner, a plant biologist at the University of Munich in Germany, commented:

“I don't think one would expect a king to plant these watermelons here.”

According to her, it is likely that the king should have eaten the seeds while traveling to the other world.

Long research has helped to better understand evolution

Renner asked graduate student Guillaume Homiki build a watermelon family tree 10 years ago. Then they knew only about 4 types of watermelons and that the sweet one, Citrullus lanatus, was domesticated in South Africa. Khomiki analyzed the DNA of a typical sample and took leaves from 80 other fruits.

During the study, he increased the number of known species to seven. He also discovered that the sweet watermelon sample was not a sweet watermelon. Similar studies have also helped to discover that the closest relative of the watermelon is native to Sudan. Therefore, it became known that the closest relative of watermelon grows in northeast Africa. However, the territory could not be defined precisely, because the environment could simply have changed over the past 10,000 years.

The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit previously eaten only with seeds

The story of the watermelon that became the base. Why was this fruit eaten only with seeds before

In addition, scientists received seeds found near the Nile River in modern Sudan. There was a desert camp there 300 years ago, ruled by the Egyptian pharaohs.

The moment of truth – what the comparison of seeds gave

During the experiment, DNA was taken from both seeds. Renner called the process surprising because One Muhuaggag's genome lacked key mutations that determine sweetness and redness. She said the fruit was probably bitter and had a white part. Most likely, the inhabitants swallowed the seeds. The fate of the pulp remains unknown.

Another specimen did not provide DNA for testing for sweetness and mutations. At the same time, both seeds had enough to compare with modern genomes. They were found to be quite similar to various modern watermelons.

In particular, the seeds from Wan Muhuaggiag were genetically similar to egusi watermelons. They are eaten today in West Africa for their seeds. Therefore, scientists have confirmed the idea that people in the Sahara used to eat bitter fruits for tasty seeds. The study also confirmed the lost diversity of watermelon. But to find out when this happened, you will have to get more seeds.