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  • Author or Editor: Amnon Levi. x
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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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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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A greenhouse trial was used to evaluate 159 accessions of bottle gourd [Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Standl.] obtained from the U.S. National Plant Germplasm for tolerance to clomazone herbicide. Most accessions tested were moderately or severely injured by clomazone at 3.0 mg·kg−1 incorporated into greenhouse potting medium; however, several exhibited lower injury. Seeds were produced from tolerant and susceptible plants for use in a greenhouse concentration–response experiment. About three to four times higher clomazone concentrations were required to cause moderate injury to tolerant bottle genotypes in comparison with susceptible genotypes. The differences in tolerance among genotypes were observed with injury ratings, chlorophyll measurements, and shoot weights. Clomazone may be used safely on tolerant bottle gourd genotypes, but the herbicide may not be safe for susceptible genotypes. Also, tolerant genotypes such as Grif 11942 may be desirable for use as rootstocks in grafted watermelon production.

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Whiteflies [Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius)] and aphids [Aphis gossypii Glover and Myzus persicae (Sulzer)] are serious threats to watermelon by direct feeding and by transmitting viruses of important virus diseases. The desert watermelon Citrullus colocynthis (L.) has been shown to exhibit resistance to these insect pests and could be a useful source for breeding resistance into watermelon [Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus (Thunbs) Matsum & Nakai]. Using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), we found differences among the chemical profiles of two U.S. PIs of C. colocynthis, one PI of C. lanatus var. citroides, and two heirloom watermelon (C. lanatus var. lanatus) cultivars (‘Charleston Gray’ and ‘Mickey Lee’). Flavonoid and caffeic acid derivatives were identified in the leaf extracts by a combination of ultraviolet (UV) and mass spectrometry (MS) spectral analyses. Four phenolic derivatives of caffeic and/or ferulic acid were found to be essentially unique to C. colocynthis. Total flavonoid content was found to be approximately four to 18 times higher in C. colocynthis accessions and seven to nine times higher in C. lanatus var. citroides as compared with watermelon cultivars. Caffeoyl-glucose was also identified in the leaves of watermelon cultivars for the first time. Leaf sugar concentrations (198 to 211 mg·dL−1), read from a glucometer, were statistically the same among the various germplasm entries. These results will help in the development of pest-resistant watermelon.

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Root traits are an important component for productive plant performance. Roots offer immediate absorptive surfaces for water and nutrient acquisition and are thus critical to crop growth and response to biotic and abiotic stresses. In addition, roots can provide the first line of defense against soilborne pathogens. Watermelon crop performance is often challenged by inclement weather and environmental factors. A resilient root system can support the watermelon crop’s performance across a diverse range of production conditions. In this study, 335 four-day-old watermelon (Citrullus spp.) seedlings were evaluated for total root length, average root diameter, total root surface area, and total root volume. Total root length varied from 8.78 to 181 cm (20.6-fold variation), total surface area varied from 2 to 35.5 cm2, and average root diameter and total root volume had an 8- and 29.5-fold variation, respectively. Genotypes PI 195927 (Citrullus colocynthis) and PI 674448 (Citrullus amarus) had the largest total root length values. Accessions PI 674448 and PI 494817 (C. amarus) had the largest total root surface area means. Watermelon cultivars (Citrullus lanatus) had a relatively smaller root system and significantly fewer fibrous roots when compared with the roots of the other Citrullus spp. Positive genetic correlations were identified among total root length, total root surface area, and total root volume. This genetic information will be useful in future breeding efforts to select for multiple root architecture traits in watermelon. Germplasm identified in this study that exhibit superior root traits can be used as parental choices to improve watermelon for root traits.

Open Access

A genetic linkage map was constructed for watermelon based on a testcross population and an F2 population. The testcross map includes 312 markers (RAPD, ISSR, AFLP, SSR, and ASRP). This map covered a genetic distance of 1385 cM, and identified 11 large (50.7-155.2 cm), five intermediate (37.5-46.2 cm), and 16 small linkage groups (4.2-31.4 cm). Most AFLP markers are clustered in two linkage regions, while all other markers are randomly dispersed throughout the genome. Many of the markers in this study were skewed from the classical (Mendelian) segregation ratio of 1:1 in the testcross or 3:1 in the F2 population. The order of the markers within linkage groups was similar in the testcross and F2 populations. Additionally, a cDNA library was constructed using RNA isolated from watermelon flesh 1 week (rapid cell division stage), 2 weeks (cell growth and storage deposition stage), 4 weeks (maturation stage), and 5 weeks (mature fruit) after pollination. More than 1020 cDNA clones were sequenced, and analyzed using the basic local alignment search Tool (BLAST). The sequenced cDNA clones were designated as expressed sequenced tag (EST). The ESTs were searched for simple sequence repeats. About 7% of the ESTs contained SSR motifs. The ESTs containing SSRs are being used to design PCR primers and the putative markers are being tested for polymorphism among the parental lines of the mapping populations. Polymorphic markers will then be mapped using the mapping populations.

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