Michigan State University Working on New Turf Types

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 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." 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."

For more information, visit www.greeen.msu.edu.