Food: Watermelon was originally a melon and comes from southern Sudan

A display of watermelons. Illustrative photo. (FRANCK DAUMAS / RADIO FRANCE)

A debate between specialists must be finally settled, divided between those who think that the ancestor of watermelon comes from South Africa, while others lean for a more northern origin, on the side of West Africa. or the Nile Valley. Researchers have therefore traced the genetic thread of the fruit, sequencing the genomes of several of its cousins ​​in Africa to arrive at this conclusion, published in a journal of the American Academy of Sciences: the watermelon is undoubtedly the distant descendant of the Kordofan melon. , a species still cultivated today in southern Sudan.

Thanks to this genetic concordance, researchers believe that it will now be possible to improve the cultivation of our watermelons, for example by limiting the use of pesticides. Indeed, during their study, these scientists realized that certain genes present in Sudanese melons offer better resistance to diseases. Genetics could also provide solutions in terms of adaptation to climate change.

Two avenues are favored to explain the path traveled by the watermelon between Africa and the rest of the world: the first organizes a gradual movement northward via Libya, where old seeds have been found; but the hypothesis which holds the cord the most, it is that of a domestication in Egypt. It turns out that in a burial excavated in the 19th century in the Saqqara region, wall drawings representing watermelons quite similar to the fruit that we know today were found.

Better, leaves were collected on a mummy dating from 3,500 years and their DNA analysis showed that their composition was quite close to that of his descendant of the moment. The Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty therefore already cultivated watermelon. It then spread via trade routes, to become today the most produced fruit in the world: around 120 million tonnes per year, of which three quarters come from China.

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