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A View from David Ewing Duncan

Sequencing the cucumber

Geneticists in China and the U.S. have sequenced the cucumber genome.

  • June 5, 2009

Geneticists in China and the U.S. have sequenced the cucumber genome. This comes on top of the news that the tomato is being sequenced by a 10-nation consortium. But we still have a long way to go before the DNA of my whole salad is sequenced. So far, lettuce has been left out of vegetable sequencing projects, and so has the radish. Never mind pine nuts and parsley.

Credit: SXC

Researchers hope to use information about the DNA of cucumbers as a window into the molecular workings of a vegetable that shares genes with 800 species, including watermelons, squash and pumpkins. Undoubtedly, this knowledge will be useful in creating ever better cucumbers, though I do wonder how far the sequencing of plants and animals will go. It may also be used to genetically engineer a super-cucumber.

This news is part of a decade of work by scientists sequencing model organisms that include mice, flies, yeast, and a little worm called C. elegans. Among plants, scientists have rice, sorghum and other staple crops.

I don’t know how many genes humans share with a cucumber, but scientists estimate we share about 50 percent of our DNA with the banana. This is the nature of DNA in evolution: that all organisms currently alive developed over the eons from common earlier organisms.

In other words, we are what we eat.

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