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Ancient Egyptians Enjoyed Sweet Watermelons

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

MUNICH, GERMANY—New Scientist reports that Egyptians living some 3,500 years ago may have eaten watermelons similar to those we enjoy today. Botanists Susanne Renner of the University of Munich and Guillaume Chomicki of the University of Oxford analyzed a tiny piece of one of the ancient watermelon leaves that were discovered in an Egyptian tomb and sent to botanist Joseph Hooker in London in the late nineteenth century. Fortunately, the partial genome sequence the researchers obtained from the artifact contained genes related to color and taste. This melon plant did not produce the bitter cucurbitacins found in Africa’s wild, round watermelons. It also lacked a functioning gene for transforming the red pigment lycopene into another substance, which means the plant produced fruit with red flesh. Ancient Egyptian images of watermelons depict them with an elongated shape, but the partial gene sequence did not reveal the contours of this particular plant's fruit. Renner said the analysis also suggests the plant was related to sweet watermelons with white flesh that are grown to this day in Sudan. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Family Secrets.”

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