For some, pumpkins conjure carved Halloween decorations, but for many people around the world, these gourds provide nutrition. Scientists at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) in New York and the National Engineering Research Center for Vegetables in Beijing have sequenced the genomes of two important pumpkin species, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata. The finished genomes appear in the October 9, 2017 issue of Molecular Plant, which highlights the work on its cover. The open-access article is titled “Karyotype Stability and Unbiased Fractionation in the Paleo-Allotetraploid Cucurbita Genomes.” "Pumpkins are used as a staple food in many developing countries and are cultivated all over the world for their culinary and ornamental uses," said Dt. Zhangjun Fei, Associate Professor at BTI, Cornell Adjunct Associate Professor of Plant Pathology and a senior author of the paper. Over two-thirds of the world's pumpkins, squash, and gourds are produced in Asia alone. The researchers sequenced the two different pumpkin species to better understand their contrasting desirable traits: Cucurbita moschata is known for its resistance to disease and other stresses, such as extreme temperatures, while C. maxima is better known for its fruit quality and nutrition. Additionally, the hybrid of these two species, called “Shintosa” has even greater stress tolerance than C. moschata, and is often used as a rootstock for other cucurbit crops, such as watermelon, cucumber, and melon. Growers will cut the pumpkin seedling from its roots, and fuse the stems of other cucurbits onto it, giving them strong, resistant roots to grow from. Once deciphered, the genome sequences are an important resource for further scientific research and breeding of Cucurbita crops. By analyzing the genomes, researchers will be able to identify many genes associated with the pumpkin's desirable traits, and better understand the genetics behind the extreme phenotypes of the “Shintosa” hybrid.
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