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Amnon Levi, Laura Pence and Mary Ballzigler evaluate watermelon selections: Link to photo information
In Charleston, S.C, geneticist Amnon Levi (right) and technicians Laura Pence (left) and Mary Ballzigler (center) evaluate watermelon selections derived from crosses between American heirloom cultivars and wild watermelon accessions. Click the image for more information about it.

Cutting-Edge Studies Focus on Broccoli, Peas and Watermelon

By Luis Pons
December 5, 2005

Greener peas, wild watermelon, and broccoli seed’s role in human health are among the hot topics these days at the Agricultural Research Service's U.S. Vegetable Laboratory (USVL) in Charleston, S.C.

For almost 70 years, USVL scientists have found better ways to breed and use many popular vegetables. That work continues in a state-of-the-art facility opened in 2003.

It’s there that geneticist Mark Farnham is working with glucoraphanin, a cancer-inhibiting compound in broccoli (Brassica oleracea). His previous work with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., has made it possible to classify the cancer-fighting potential of different broccoli varieties.

Now, inspired by the discovery at Johns Hopkins that sprouted broccoli seed has about 10 times more glucoraphanin than the plant itself, Farnham is focusing on the vegetable's seed. This work may eventually lead to extracting glucoraphanin from broccoli seed for pharmaceutical purposes-- something that wouldn't be cost-effective using the whole plant.

USVL geneticist Richard Fery is working with genes that help make peas green in order to produce a “double-green” southernpea (Vigna unguiculata).

Fery and colleagues have already used a gene called green cotyledon to breed southernpea varieties widely used by the frozen-food industry. Now, he’s developing varieties containing this gene and another one called green testa.

Fery is working with South Carolina-based Western Seed Multiplication Inc. to complete work that will lead to further development and release of the double-green cultivars.

Meanwhile, geneticist Amnon Levi, plant pathologist Judy Thies and entomologist Alvin Simmons are trying to keep watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) varieties safe from destructive fungi, insects and nematodes.

Among their interests is how wild relatives that resist diseases and pests can help protect new domesticated watermelon cultivars. Breeders’ selection for desired fruit quality has given U.S. watermelon a narrow genetic base, making it susceptible to diseases and pests.

Read more about this research in the December 2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.