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Understanding the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway: Observation of four color variants of developing watermelon fruit

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The carotenoid biosynthetic pathway regulatory mechanisms leading to lycopene accumulation are well defined in the model fruit, tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L.). The regulatory mechanisms leading to accumulation of other carotenoids and flesh colors, however, are poorly understood. The variety of flesh colors available in watermelon (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai) fruit makes it ideal for investigating the regulation of the full pathway. Carotenoid accumulation was measured in seven watermelon varieties, representing four flesh colors and two ploidy levels, throughout fruit maturation. We found that the putative regulatory mechanisms controlling lycopene accumulation in red-fleshed fruit follows the same regulatory patterns as the other flesh color mutants with differing predominant carotenoids. In general, products downstream of the predominant carotenoid for each color mutant accumulate until a "breaker stage" (approx. 20 days post pollination) at which time the major carotenoid and its precursors accumulate and downstream products diminish. Consistent with other reports, triploid varieties generally had higher concentrations of carotenoids than diploids (an average of 1.5 and 4.0 times in red and orange flesh, respectively). Interestingly, triploid watermelon demonstrated different carotenoid developmental patterns, suggesting the increased carotenoid content is controlled early on in fruit development. Analyzing the carotenoid accumulation in developing fruit suggests that canary yellow-fleshed watermelon have a fully functional carotenoid pathway, red fruit have a nonfunctional β-cyclase gene, and orange and salmon yellow fruit have reduced- or non-functional phytoene desaturase and/or carotenoid isomerase genes. This improved understanding of the biosynthetic pathway regulation will help when planning traditional breeding and biotechnological techniques to improve carotenoid content in watermelon and other carotenoid-containing species.

Affiliations: 1: Departmend of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University ; 2: USDA-ARS, Wes Watkins Agricultural Research Laboratory ; 3: Millican Farms, LLC


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