More than 3500 years ago, watermelon was already a favorite summer treat. An ancient DNA study has revealed that a leaf discovered almost 200 years ago in an Egyptian tomb belongs to a bona fide watermelon, New Scientist reports. The researchers sequenced and compared DNA from this leaf with six of watermelon’s closest relatives, most of which have white flesh and are bitter. Those data showed that a white, sweet melon found today in Sudan is watermelon’s closest wild relative. But certain genes—particularly the ones that make watermelon flesh red and sweet—were more like those of today’s watermelon, indicating this fruit had already been domesticated by 3500 years ago and was quite tasty, the researchers report on the preprint server bioRxiv.
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