The Draft Genome Of Watermelon: Citrullus lanatus

The Cucurbitaceae is an agriculturally important family of plants (think melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, squashes, etc.) and one of the most popular species in this family is Watermelon.  Watermelon has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and was most probably spread by nomadic people as a portable source of both water and pre-packaged nutrients.  The estimated center of diversity of the Cucurbits is in Southern Africa.  Watermelon has many cultivars – more than 200 in production worldwide – with a wide range of phenotypic diversity and a wide area of production that accounts for 7% of land grown for vegetables.

Watermelons

Unfortunately, Curcubits are generally susceptible to pathogens – most typically in the form of bacterial and fungal pathogens.  The genomes in this group are starting to pile up which makes the family an interesting group for comparative genomics studies –particularly in the development of model species for plant pathogen studies.

watermelon genome paper header

The recently published paper “The draft genome of watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) and resequencing of 20 diverse accessions” by Guo et al. in the journal Nature Genetics, described the draft genome for the Citrullus lanatus East Asian cultivar 97103 and then re-sequenced 20 different watermelon accessions – representing three different sub-species – in order to observe genetic diversity in wild.

Almost 47 Gb of sequence data was generated using Illumina’s sequencing platforms to give 108X coverage on the relatively small estimation of 426 Mb C. lanatus genome, while the draft is approximately 353 Mb or 83.2% of the estimated genome size.  Unmapped reads, totaling almost 20% of the sequencing data, could not accurately be constructed into contigs because of explicit regions of genome duplication.

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The authors estimated 23,440 genes in the watermelon genome – very close to both the cucumber genome (no surprise) and the human genome (surprise).  About 85% of the genes from watermelon could be predicted on the basis of homology to other plant genes.  The authors did a throughout assessment of transposable elements, various repeats, and classified functional RNAs from ribosomal RNA subunits to microRNAs.  Like other plants, watermelon shows gene enrichment in subtelomeric regions.  On the basis of comparison to other genome sequences, watermelon possesses the seven paleotriplications shared with the eudicots.

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The authors assessed genetic diversity across varieties of C. lanatus by sequencing 20 representative accessions anywhere between 5X and 16X coverage.  The estimated diversity of these accessions was considerably lower than similar arrays of accessions in maize, soybean, and rice.  One explanation of the disease susceptibility of the Cucurbitaceae is this low level of genetic diversity.  As a result, one objective of breeding programs for watermelon is to introduce more diversity from wild accessions.

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Lastly, the authors assessed a number of key features of the C. lanatus genome (along with the other Cucurbitaceae): vascular transport of water and nutrients along vine-like stems, sugar content and accumulation, and the presence of an interesting non-essential amino acid – originally described from watermelons – called Citrulline.

The watermelon genome database is located both here and here.