Cucumber fungus reaches North America: ‘First one from Asia’

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

(CNN) — Scientists are warning of the first-ever native strain of a cucumber to come from Asia and potentially spread across the Pacific Ocean to the US and beyond.

The cucumber has the name Limburger and South African researchers say it has the uncanny ability to go from being a fully grown adult to microscopic — with little to no sign of the intact DNA that normally accompanies an adult.

In a bid to analyze the fungus, scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand set up the Hong Kong Muscle Plantation — the largest growing and processing plant in Hong Kong — to breed Limburger cucumbers.

The plant was chosen because it used only organic matter.

“Limburger was able to move very quickly from the stem through the plants so they already had a genetically expressed Limburger relative in the rootstock,” said Dr. Maeta Seetal, who is a botanist working at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Seetal and her team have also studied a Chinese alternative cucumber which has also shown some resistance to pathogenic Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria which affects the stomach lining of humans.

While both limburger and the other variety use Limburger’s gene for resistance, which enables them to withstand a lethal Vibrio infection, the two varieties have different genomes, Seetal explained.

Traces of Limburger DNA were found on the stem where it originated.

Meanwhile, the mixed strain — which evolved through cross-pollination — “could possibly be used as a vaccine which would be highly efficacious,” she said.

Pathogenic Vibrio can cause severe illness or death, Seetal warned. “Some people who have this infection, it’s killed them and people who can’t cure it are put into a condominium form where they’re forced to stop taking many meals because it suppresses their metabolism and causes damage to organs.”

Cucumbers are rarely eaten directly and so many different varieties survive all the way around the world.

“The most prominent ones in the UK are Kew Blue, which is yellow, and Queen Victoria Purple, which is white,” Seetal said. “The wider family of cucumbers ranges from pineapples and watermelons to garlic and tomatoes.”

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