How does green grass grow?
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Media Contact: Alyssa Boswell Gore | Agricultural communication services | 405-744-7115 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Explaining the process behind the creation of Ohio State University’s world-famous turf grass
Oklahoma may be known for its tall grass prairies immortalized in classic Western movies, but for researchers at Oklahoma State University, this is the short grass they want to remember.
Grassland, that is. Specifically, Bermuda grass, known for its cold hardiness and drought resistance. The latest variety released by Ohio State University, Tahoma 31, has become a staple not only on lawns but also in major sports stadiums around the world, from Dodger Stadium and Churchill Downs to the Philadelphia Eagles’ ballpark.
OKC1876 and OKC3920 — the two newest Bermuda grass varieties developed at The Ohio State University — are great examples of the extensive testing and expertise needed to develop high-quality turfgrass.
When the Bermuda grass growing season, typically April through October, comes to an end, Ohio State University scientists turn to laboratory and greenhouse testing during the winter months to make the most of time testing new experimental varieties.
This research process has been done almost every year at Ohio State University since the mid-20th century. Traditionally, the entire process of releasing a new variety of turfgrass takes 10 to 15 years and requires an extensive greenhouse, laboratory, field screening and testing process that can include more than 1,000 experimental plants.
This long period of time between the start of the pilot line study and its introduction to the commercial market is because there are many steps and processes that must occur to ensure that OSU releases the highest quality turfgrass varieties.
Bermuda grass genetics are studied at the same time as experimental lines are created, which helps in the selection process for current and future lines. Features are studied and lines are tested to determine what causes desirable traits in the turf, such as cold hardiness and drought resistance. Then the process of meadow breeding begins to obtain those genetic traits.
Scientists must then study these bred varieties over several years to determine whether they have the quality and traits that make them viable in the commercial market. From there, licensing is done with private producers and industries. At this point, it may take 2 to 4 years for the grass to become widely available on the commercial market for purchase.
“A variety can fail at any point in the chain, and even a variety can fail as soon as it is on the market,” said Dr. Yanqi Wu, a professor of plant and soil sciences at Ohio State University and a plant breeder. “Breeding and development is a very high-risk venture and success cannot be guaranteed even with a lot of time and money spent. Even with the breakthrough case and all the research and planning behind it, there could still be problems ahead for OKC3920 as new diseases, insect problems and environmental pressures “Changes in the industry are constant. Even if success is achieved in the market, the duration of this success is not guaranteed.”
With his team working on thousands of pilot lines each year, new Bermuda grass varieties are typically released once every few years, Wu said.
The research, which included the two most recently released varieties, included about 9,000 experimental plants.
“After the initial evaluation, the breeder will select about 20 to 30 plants to send to collaborators across the United States to evaluate turf tensile strength, freeze tolerance, drought resistance, traffic tolerance, shade tolerance, disease resistance, golf ball rolling distance, etc.,” he said. Wu. “Every five years, the development team will submit two to 10 of their top selections to the National Turf Evaluation Program where approximately 10 to 20 university scientists across the country will evaluate turf performance and adaptation.”
Information gained from national testing is used to determine whether or not to release experimental varieties to the public and, if so, to secure proprietary protection in the form of U.S. plant patents or plant variety protection certificates.
With a lot of hard work, a great deal of testing and some setbacks, scientists have found that a variety with the right genetic makeup has strong color, durability, drought resistance, cold hardiness and more.
Meanwhile, OSU scientists are continuing their molecular research on the two native species, African bermudagrass and common bermudagrass, using DNA markers to study the genetic inheritance of important traits.
“We have developed the most molecular marker tools in the world for bermudagrass,” Wu said.
Using these tools, scientists are mapping the genomes of different Bermudagrass varieties, and improved varieties of Bermudagrass are being created.
“We have already developed more than 3,000 genetic markers, but there is more work to do,” Wu said. “It’s all about taking small steps to move forward and then combining all those small steps to make greater progress.”
Wu said the research is a collaboration between OSU scientists, graduate students and technicians, as well as scientists from other universities. Funding is provided by the USDA, USGA, and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
“We want to always work toward improving water conservation and water use efficiency in terms of grasses and sustainability attributes,” Wu said.
Wu expects the industry could save millions of dollars if more facilities used hardy, water-efficient grasses.
“I think our work has already made some national impact. OSU herbs have been used in many places, and we are proud of that,” Wu said.
The artificial turf industry contributes more than $40 billion annually to the U.S. economy and more than $1 billion annually to the Oklahoma economy. According to the 2016 US Golf Economy Report, golf activity was directly driven by $84.1 billion in 2016, a 22% increase from $68.8 billion in the 2011 report. The industry supported $191.9 billion in total annual activity that year, including That’s 1.89 million jobs and $58.7 billion in wages and benefits.
Ohio State University Ag Research It is Oklahoma’s leading research and technology development agency in the areas of agriculture, natural resources, and life sciences.