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  • Author or Editor: Amnon Levi. x
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Powdery mildew has been reported on Citrullus lanatus in Africa and Europe for the past 9 years, and in the United States for the past 6 years. During this time, it has occurred in the main watermelon production areas in the U.S. and has been documented in nine states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Maryland, New York, Arizona, and California). This is of great concern to the watermelon industry since powdery mildew is difficult to control and can have a severe impact on yield and fruit quality due to loss of photosynthetic area and sunscald. Finding resistant C. lanatus germplasm is needed for the development of commercial varieties containing this resistance. This report summarized the status of an ongoing project to screen the entire USDA–ARS C. lanatus germplasm collection. Currently, the collection is being screened for race 1 and race 2 Podosphaera xanthii (syn. Sphaerotheca fuliginea auct. p.p.), the causal agent of powdery mildew in C. lanatus in the United States. Resistance genes appear to exist for both races and the genes conferring resistance to race 1 appear to be different than race 2 resistance genes. Allelism tests are currently in process to determine the number of resistance genes present.

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Phytophthora fruit rot, caused by Phytophthora capsici, is prevalent in most watermelon-producing regions of southeastern United States and is known to cause pre- and post-harvest yield losses. A non-wound inoculation technique was developed to evaluate detached mature fruit belonging to U.S. watermelon PIs for resistance to fruit rot caused by P. capsici. Mature fruit were harvested and placed on wire shelves in a walk-in humid chamber [greater than 95% relative humidity (RH), temperature 26 ± 2 °C] and inoculated with a 7-mm agar plug from an actively growing colony of P. capsici. Twenty-four PIs that exhibited resistance in a preliminary evaluation of 205 PIs belonging to the watermelon core collection in 2009 were grown in the field and greenhouse in 2010 and 2011 and evaluated in the walk-in humid chamber. Fruit rot development was rapid on fruit of susceptible controls ‘Black Diamond’, ‘Sugar Baby’, and PI 536464. Several accessions including PI 560020, PI 306782, PI 186489, and PI 595203 (all Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus) were highly resistant to fruit rot. One C. colocynthis (PI 388770) and a C. lanatus var. citroides PI (PI 189225) also showed fruit rot resistance. Fruit from PIs that were resistant also had significantly lower amounts of P. capsici DNA/gram of fruit tissue compared with the susceptible commercial cultivars Sugar Baby and Black Diamond. The sources of resistance to Phytophthora fruit rot identified in this study may prove useful in watermelon breeding programs aimed at enhancing disease resistance.

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Vegetable grafting began in the 1920s using resistant rootstock to control soilborne diseases. This process is now common in Asia, parts of Europe, and the Middle East. In Japan and Korea, most of the cucurbits and tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) grown are grafted. This practice is rare in the United States, and there have been few experiments to determine optimal grafting production practices for different geographical and climatic regions in America. This is beginning to change as a result of the phase out of methyl bromide. The U.S. cucurbit and tomato industries are evaluating grafting as a viable option for disease control. Because reports indicate that type of rootstock alters yield and quality attributes of the scion fruit, some seed companies are investigating grafting as a means to improve quality. It has been reported that pH, flavor, sugar, color, carotenoid content, and texture can be affected by grafting and the type of rootstock used. Reports vary on whether grafting effects are advantageous or deleterious, but it is usually agreed that the rootstock/scion combination must be carefully chosen for optimal fruit quality. Additionally, it is important to study rootstock/scion combinations under multiple climatic and geographic conditions because many rootstocks have optimal temperature and moisture ranges. This report gives an overview of the effect of grafting on vegetable quality.

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High-quality, high-phytonutrient watermelons [Citrullus lanatus (Thumb.), Matsum & Nakai] have strong market opportunities. To produce highly nutritious fruit in a seedless triploid market, the nature of phytonutrient accumulation as affected by ploidy must be understood. The present study performed on six field-grown watermelon diploid (2n) inbred lines, their induced autotetraploids (4n), and autotriploids (3n) determined the importance of ploidy on quality and nutritional content. Lycopene, total soluble solids (TSS), L-citrulline (hereafter referred to as citrulline), glutathione (GSH), weight, width, and length were measured in ripe fruit from one location. Our findings contradict some previous manuscripts, which did not use diploid inbred lines and their induced autoploidy relatives. Of the traits we analyzed that did not have a family-by-ploidy interaction (citrulline, GSH, weight, and width), we determined citrulline levels were not significantly affected by ploidy in five of six families nor was there a significant correlation when all family’s citrulline values were averaged. Previous studies on field-grown fruit that did not use autoploidy lines suggested triploid fruit had more citrulline than diploid fruit. GSH was higher in autotriploid than in diploid or autotetraploid (95.0 vs. 66.9 or 66.7 μg·g−1 GSH, respectively). Additionally, we found an association with higher GSH in larger fruit. Autotriploid fruit were, in general, heavier and wider than diploid and autotetraploid fruit, and autotetraploid fruit were generally smaller than diploid fruit. Of the traits we analyzed that had a family by ploidy interaction (lycopene, TSS, and length), we determined within four families, ploidy affected lycopene concentration, but whether this interaction is positive or negative was family-dependent. These data suggest the triploid state alone does not give fruit higher lycopene concentrations. The mean TSS was higher in autotetraploid than in autotriploid, which was again higher than in diploid fruit averaged across families (10.5%, 10.2%, and 9.5% TSS, respectively); there was a family × ploidy interaction so the significance of this increase is affected by the triploid’s parents. Lycopene and TSS had a slight positive correlation. Four of six families showed no statistical correlation between ploidy and length, and although mean length across family demonstrated smaller tetraploid fruit, the family-by-ploidy interaction demonstrates that this observation is family-dependent. Length and width correlate well with weight when combining data for all ploidy levels and when analyzing each ploidy separately. Length correlates more closely with width in autotriploid fruit than in diploid or autotetraploid fruit.

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The bitter desert watermelon, Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad is a wild species valuable for biotic and abiotic stress resistance that could be exploited for improving watermelon cultivars [Citrullus lanatus (Thunberg) Matsum & Nakai var. lanatus]. The objective of this study was to survey and identify C. colocynthis accessions displaying resistance to the Papaya ringspot virus-watermelon strain (PRSV-W). Thirty-one accessions of C. colocynthis, collected in Africa, the Middle East, southwest Asia, and India were evaluated for PRSV-W resistance. Of these 31 accessions, 4 U.S. Plant Introduction (PI) accessions, including 525080 (collected in Qena, Egypt) and PI 537277, PI 652554, and Griffin 14201 (collected at the northern Indian desert of Rajasthan and the neighboring region of Punjab, Pakistan) showed high resistance to PRSV-W. Plants of these four resistant PIs were self-pollinated to produce S1 and S2 seeds that continued to maintain the high levels of PRSV resistance. Since there is a wide genetic distance between watermelon cultivars and C. colocynthis, we performed crosses and backcrosses with watermelon cultivars, including ‘Charleston Gray’ and ‘Sugar Baby’ to produce viable seed that would be useful in the development of genetic populations and in introducing the resistance into watermelon cultivars.

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Powdery mildew (Podosphaera xanthii) can cause severe damage to cucurbit crops grown in open fields and greenhouses. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the United States in grafting watermelon plants onto various cucurbit rootstocks. Bottle gourd plants (Lagenaria siceraria) are being used throughout the world as rootstocks for grafting watermelon. Although gourd plants are beneficial, they may still be susceptible hosts to various soilborne and foliar diseases. Bottle gourd plant introductions (PI) resistant to diseases and pests can be a valuable source of germplasm in rootstock breeding programs. We evaluated 234 U.S. PIs of L. siceraria for tolerance to powdery mildew in two greenhouse tests. Young seedlings were inoculated by dusting powdery mildew spores of melon race 1 on the cotyledons. Plants were rated 2 weeks after inoculation using a 1 to 9 scale of increasing disease severity. Although none of the L. siceraria PIs were immune to powdery mildew, several PIs had significantly lower levels of powdery mildew severity compared with susceptible watermelon cultivar Mickey Lee. The experiment was repeated with 26 select PIs on whole seedlings and cotyledon disks. Significant variability in the level of resistance to powdery mildew on plants within PI was observed. Moderate resistance in several PIs to powdery mildew was confirmed. PI 271353 had consistently lower ratings in the various tests and can be considered the most resistant to P. xanthii race 1 among the L. siceraria accessions evaluated in this study. A few other PIs with moderate resistance to powdery mildew included PI 271357, PI 381840, and PI 273663. These results suggest that novel sources of resistance could be developed by careful selection and screening of several of the PIs with moderate resistance described in our study.

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Two hundred nineteen U.S. plant introductions (PI) belonging to the watermelon core collection were evaluated for broad mite, Polyphagotarsonemus latus (Banks), infestation and injury that occurred naturally in a field planting. Of the 219 PIs, nine (4%) had no visible broad mite injury in the field compared with a commercial cultivar, ‘Mickey Lee’, which was severely injured. Injury mainly occurred on the growing terminals and the tender apical leaves. The growing terminals and the apical leaves were bronzed, grew poorly and, in some cases, they were distorted and curled upward. Broad mites were extracted by washing the growing terminals of 22 selected PIs with boiling water and counting the mites under a stereomicroscope. ‘Mickey Lee’ had more broad mites on growing terminals compared with some of the PIs with no visible injury. Fourteen selected PIs were further evaluated in the greenhouse to confirm their resistance by artificially infesting them with broad mites that had been cultured on susceptible watermelon plants. PIs in accessions belonging to Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus (PI 357708), Citrullus lanatus var. citroides (PI 500354), Citrullus colocynthis (PI 386015, PI 386016, PI 525082), and Parecitrullus fistulosus (PI 449332) had significantly lower broad mite injury ratings and counts compared with ‘Mickey Lee’ and other susceptible PIs. Broad mites have not been reported on watermelons in the United States before; however, it can emerge as a serious pest. The previously mentioned accessions can serve as potential sources of broad mite resistance for use in breeding programs aimed at enhancing pest resistance in watermelon.

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Selection for and incorporation of host plant resistance into cultivars is a fundamental strategy to control insects and diseases and may help reduce reliance on synthetic pesticides. The sweetpotato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius), is an important pest of watermelon [Citrullus lanatus (Thunberg) Matsum. and Nakai var. lanatus] and is among the most damaging pests in many agricultural systems worldwide. Citrullus colocynthis L., a perennial melon species indigenous to arid regions of northern Africa, the Mediterranean region, and southwestern Asia, is a valuable source of resistance to insect pests and diseases of watermelon. Laboratory and greenhouse experiments were conducted to evaluate selected C. colocynthis genotypes for sources of resistance to B. tabaci. Thirty genotypes of C. colocynthis, collected in different geographic regions, were evaluated against the heirloom cultivar Calhoun Gray using first a horizontal Y-tube olfactometer in the laboratory. A selected subset of the genotypes was evaluated in a second experiment in the laboratory using a vertical monitoring assay. In this assay, whiteflies could freely move upward to feed and oviposit on leaves placed in the upper portion of a Y-tube. In a third experiment, a choice assay was conducted on selected genotypes in cages in the greenhouse. Of the 30 C. colocynthis genotypes evaluated, PI 346082 (collected in Afghanistan) exhibited the highest level of resistance against B. tabaci based on all three experiments. PI 537277 (collected in Pakistan) exhibited a significantly high level of whitefly resistance based on low survival of adult whiteflies and a low ratio of nymphs to eggs. PI 346082 and PI 537277 should be a useful source for breeding projects aiming to improve whitefly resistance in watermelon cultivars.

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