Origin and domestication of Cucurbitaceae crops: insights from phylogenies, genomics and archaeology

Guillaume Chomicki, Hanno Schaefer, Susanne S. Renner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Some of the World's most valuable crops, including watermelon, honey melon, cucumber, squash, zucchini and pumpkin, belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. We review insights on their domestication from new phylogenies, archaeology and genomic studies. Ancestral state estimation on the most complete Cucurbitaceae phylogeny to date suggests that an annual life cycle may have contributed to domestication. Domestication started c. 11 000 years ago in the New World and Asia, and apparently more recently in Africa. Some cucurbit crops were domesticated only once, others multiple times (e.g. melon from different Asian and African populations). Most wild cucurbit fruits are bitter and nonpalatable to humans, and nonbitterness of the pulp apparently was a trait favoured early during domestication, with genomic data showing how bitterness loss was achieved convergently. The genetic pathways underlying lycopene accumulation, red or orange pulp colour, and fruit size and shape are only just beginning to be understood. The study of cucurbit domestication in recent years has benefitted from the increasing integration of archaeological and genomic data with insights from herbarium collections, the most efficient way to understand species’ natural geographic ranges and climate adaptations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1240-1255
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • cucumber
  • domestication
  • genomics
  • melon
  • pumpkin
  • squash
  • taxonomy
  • watermelon


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