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MSU Professor Developing Hybrid Superturf


News from
Michigan State University

By MSU Saff
May 30, 2007

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- 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 (MSU) 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 said. "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 said. "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 said.

Bughrara's position and several of his research projects are funded by Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), Michigan's plant agriculture initiative housed at MSU.

Founded in 1997, Project GREEEN is a cooperative effort between plant-based commodities and businesses together with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture to advance Michigan's economy through its plant-based agriculture. Its mission is to develop research and educational programs in response to industry needs, ensure and improve food safety, and protect and preserve the quality of the environment.

To learn more about Michigan's plant agriculture initiative at MSU, visit www.greeen.msu.edu.