June 5, 2007
In the future, people who care for and enjoy using golf courses, sports fields and parks may be able to worry less about how cold weather and drought affect the grass at their favorite recreational areas. With the development of new turfgrass hybrids by Suleiman Bughrara, professor in the Michigan State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, the turfgrass industry may grow greener and stronger than ever before.
Since beginning his work at MSU in 1999, Bughrara has blazed new trails. Or, sometimes, frozen them. Bughrara completed a comprehensive snow mold study of more than 4,000 cloned varieties of creeping bentgrass by simulating winter for each plant. Twenty bentgrass varieties showed significant resistance to snow mold, one of the most detrimental diseases challenging the turfgrass industry. A follow-up study found six of the 20 snow-mold-resistant clones also showed resistance to dollar spot, the other main turf-troubling disease
"Bentgrass has all the right characteristics of great turf but shows susceptibility to dollar spot and snow mold," Bughrara says. "We will continue our work to examine ways of crossbreeding aesthetically pleasing varieties, such as colonial bentgrass, to maximize disease resistance."
Bughrara and his research team continue making discovery after exciting discovery in turfgrass breeding. His work also includes ryegrass and fescue. Working to unlock the mystery of drought tolerance, Bughrara is integrating Atlas fescue genes (from semiarid regions of Morocco) into the perennial ryegrass genome. The hybrids have shown high drought tolerance in greenhouse research. Field evaluations and molecular mapping are under way.
"This is exciting work," Bughrara says. "We are the only university in the United States doing this type of genetic work to improve cold and drought tolerance and disease resistance in turfgrass breeding."
Bughrara sees potential breakthroughs in how all plants are grown, especially food plants. "With the right location on a gene, we can create hybrids for cold and drought tolerance in other crops as well. Wheat, corn and rice that need less water to thrive? It could change the entire landscape of our food systems," Bughrara says.
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