Turfgrass breeding emphasis set to change
Turfgrass breeding objectives are likely to switch emphasis from hitherto sought after traits of fineness of leaf, shoot density and colour towards better stress tolerance.
Speaking at the Turf Growers Association (TGA) Symposium at the National Turfgrass Association (NTF) annual conference (Southport, Monday 29th November 2004), British Seed Houses' turf grass breeder Dr Danny Thorogood from IGER said he and his colleagues were nearing the limits of progress on some traditional traits.
"We've gone about as far as we can go with certain characteristics, but that doesn't mean progress will cease," he stressed. "Far from it - turf grass breeders are now looking more at stress features such as wear, drought, cold and disease tolerance in the continued quest for varieties adapted to the wider range of conditions they are likely to encounter."
Dr Thorogood, who runs the British Seed Houses turf grass development programme based at IGER in Wales, said their aim is now to improve the adaptability of dwarf perennial ryegrass by introducing positive traits from the natural variation found within the species and even from other related grasses.
"Tall fescue, for example, is much more tolerant of stress than ryegrass, so if we can introduce some of its beneficial characteristics without compromising the progress already made, then the future is bright," he said.
IGER currently has trial plots in Sweden where researchers are screening current elite breeding lines for cold tolerance. Breeding for resistance to disease is a priority for the industry too, although Dr Thorogood explained that it was difficult to devise an appropriate selection programme. "Disease pathogens are very adaptable," he pointed out, "pathogens can mutate to overcome resistant plants in time, so breeding for durable disease resistance is particularly challenging."
The good news is that new gene mapping technology is helping IGER scientists identify and molecularly tag genes to accelerate traditional plant breeding techniques such as 'back crossing'. It means breeders can select only plants with the appropriate tags and identify desirable grass characteristics more precisely and quickly. As a result, the process will remove much of the time-consuming progeny testing associated with conventional breeding methods.