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  • Author or Editor: John Coffey 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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Citrullus colocynthis (CC) is a viable source of genes for enhancing disease and pest resistance in common cultivated watermelon [Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus (CLL)] cultivars. However, there is little information about genetic diversity within CC or the relationship of CC accessions to C. lanatus. In this study, we examined genetic diversity and relationships among 29 CC accessions collected in northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and their relationships to 3 accessions and 3 cultivars of CLL, 12 accessions of citron melon [C. lanatus ssp. lanatus var. citroides (CLC)], and 1 accession representing the desert perennial Citrullus ecirrhosus (CE). Twenty-three high-frequency oligonucleotides-targeting active gene (HFO–TAG) primers were used to produce a total of 431 polymorphic fragments that target coding regions of the genome. Cluster and multidimensional scaling plot analysis, separated the CC into five groups, in general agreement with their geographic origins. CC genotypes admixed with CLL and CLC also were identified. Major reproductive barriers resulted in significantly reduced fertility in CC × CLL hybridizations. However, several of the U.S. PIs of CC were successfully crossed with watermelon cultivars using traditional breeding procedures, and the seeds produced from these crosses were viable. This suggests that CC can be a viable source to introduce biotic and abiotic stress resistance genes into cultivated watermelon.

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