Breeding, molecular genetics and cultivar development of turfgrasses
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As an agricultural commodity, turfgrass is not food, fiber or animal feed; however, it does affect the lives of millions of people in many different ways including their physical and mental health, as well as social wellbeing. Apart from providing aesthetic beauty, turfgrasses limit soil erosion, conserve water, filter air and water-borne pollutants, reduce heat buildup in urban areas, and provide safer playing surfaces. The turfgrass industry is one of the fastest growing segments of US agriculture. Approximately 50 million acres of land are managed as turfgrass in the form of residential lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, highway roadsides, cemeteries, and parks with an annual estimated value of $57.9 billion (Haydu et al., 2006). Currently, there are about three times more acres of lawns (including residential and commercial) than irrigated corn. This makes turfgrass the single largest irrigated crop in the U.S. in terms of surface area (Earth Observatory, 2005).Like any other agricultural commodity, turfgrasses are challenged by different types of abiotic stresses such as drought, soil and water salinity, extreme temperatures and biotic stresses such as insects, pathogens, and weed competition. Billions of dollars are spent annually to manage turfgrasses following integrated turfgrass management regimes, which includes the use of plant health products, fertilizers, additional water inputs, etc. However, the most sustainable approach to reduce costs and environmental risks associated with the use of pesticides is the development of cultivars with superior stress resistance and wider geographical and environmental adaptation.The overall research goal of this project is to use conventional and modern breeding approaches for the genetic enhancement of major turfgrass species. The goal is to improve economically and ecologically important traits along with aesthetic qualities for their wide-spread societal acceptance, particularly for southern arid and semi-arid climatic zones within the USA.