Collaborative studies between scientists at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, and the University of Munich have identified several new native Cucumis plant species in Australia that are close relatives of cultivated Rock-melon and Cucumber plants. These findings are a product of combined studies using DNA sequencing and morphology into the plant family Cucurbitaceae. This research has been recently published in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS.
New opportunities exist for plant breeders to incorporate traits of these wild species to improve disease and pest resistance of these horticulturally important crops, explains Ian Telford, UNE’s Honorary Herbarium Curator and research team member.
One of the discoveries, Cucumis picrocarpus, an endemic species widespread across Australia, usually on clay plains from the Pilbara, Western Australia, to near Narrabri, New South Wales, is the sister species to Cucumis melo, the Rock-melon. Although named as a species in 1859 by the famous Victorian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, this species has been confused with other species and neglected until now. Another three species from tropical Australia, one from the Kimberley and Kakadu, the other two from north-eastern Queensland, will be named as new. They are close relatives of Cucumber, Cucumis sativus.
“There’s potential to produce crops less prone to disease but first we have to bring the plants into cultivation — there’s much to be done,” Telford said, adding that these latest discoveries suggest that plant breeding using wild species related to Rock-melon and Cucumber should concentrate on Australia and Asia, not Africa.