United States Golf Association selects Danforth Center for study

United States Golf Association selects Danforth Center for study

Research will advance the development of salt-tolerant turf varieties.

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June 14, 2016
Turf Water Management

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center announced it is collaborating with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Georgia to develop methods to study salt tolerance in seashore paspalum through the United States Golf Association Turfgrass and Environmental Research Program. Seashore paspalum is a highly salt-tolerant grass species that has been increasingly adopted as a turfgrass on coastal golf courses, including The Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro.

Soil salinization is a global challenge. On average, 2,000 hectares are lost daily though salinization, with more than 60 million hectares of the world’s irrigated land having already been compromised. Scientists are only beginning to understand the genetic basis of salt tolerance, especially in species that are already somewhat salt-tolerant such as seashore paspalum.

Principal Investigator, Elizabeth Kellogg, Ph.D., Robert E. King Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center, is leading a team including Ken Olsen, Ph.D. of Washington University, David Goad, a Washington University Ph.D. student supervised by Kellogg and Olsen, and Ivan Baxter, Ph.D., USDA research scientist and associate member at the Danforth Center, to study the highly salt-tolerant grass to improve turf varieties.

“With this grant we will begin to uncover the genetic basis of salt-tolerance in seashore paspalum,” Kellogg said. At Washington University, Goad will conduct greenhouse experiments growing plants in different concentrations of salt water. In each experiment he will measure plant growth rate and chlorophyll content (greenness) to determine the effect of salt. In addition, the research group will apply ionomics to measure the amount of salt in the plant. This new ionomics method was developed and has been used extensively by the Baxter lab. Finally, the information on growth rate and salt content will be combined with extensive genome sequence data. 

“These methods can be applied in seashore paspalum and other halophytes,” Kellogg said. “Data and resources generated in this project will lay the foundation for future work to uncover the genetic basis of salt-tolerance using natural variation from a wide range of cultivated and wild plants.”

Their discoveries will advance the development of more robust turfgrass varieties that require less fresh water and fewer chemical treatments, a critical step in increasing the environmental sustainability of the golf industry. Equally important, the salt-tolerance adaptations identified in seashore paspalum can also be applied to other members of the grass family, including cereal crops, such as maize or wheat.
 
“The USGA is committed to advancing the game of golf through science and innovation, especially in turfgrass research,” said Michael Kenna, Ph.D., research director, USGA.  “Research conducted at the Danforth Center furthers our longstanding work in the development of drought-resistant grasses and sustainable practices. Increasing the effectiveness of turfgrass breeding and genetic research and using whole genome data will provide genetic tools not commonly seen in recreational sports, and could have global impact.”

An assembly of a reference genome is now in progress at the Center, in collaboration with James Schnable at the University of Nebraska, which will greatly facilitate genetics research and breeding. Knowledge of the genes will allow breeders to implement the new phenotyping methods immediately. The new approach can be used to improve other grass species with minor adjustments. The project will then add genome sequences from wild paspalum and paspalum cultivars to be shared with breeders.

The research will lay the groundwork for a larger study to identify the genetic basis of salt-tolerance by providing all of the necessary methodological tools and plant material to begin additional genome sequences and precise location of salt-tolerance genes. Preliminary results from the pilot project will also help in acquiring further funding to cover the costs of additional sequencing, greenhouse experiments, and ionomics work.