Professor Eric Watkins

CFANS Horticultural Science
College of Food, Ag & Nat Res Sci
Twin Cities
Project Title: 
Turfgrass Breeding and Genetics

Genomics research greatly facilitates plant breeding and genetics work. Reference genomes of multiple major crops have been released in the past decade. Benefitting from the available reference genomes, researchers are able to use next-generation and third-generation sequencing to study functional genomics, selecting breeding materials, phylogenetics, and evolution of a species.

Unlike other major crops, turfgrass breeding and genetics work is restricted due to its complicated plant genome, both genome size and polyploidy. The outcrossing nature also creates extra barrier to applying a genomics tool into the breeding program. Besides genetics, turfgrass research also involves providing a management protocol to the public so they can better maintain a good and healthy turf stand. These recommendations are including but not limited to fungicide application and fertilizer application.

Hard fescue (Festuca brevipila) is a well performing low-input turfgrass species that belongs to the fine fescue species (Festuca ssp.). This research aims to develop a whole transcriptome of hard fescue via PacBio sequencing. This could help with better understanding of the hard fescue genome. This fine transcriptome can be used to perform downstream studies such as single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) discovery via genotyping by sequence. This genotyping information could help accelerate turfgrass breeding progress by increasing the selection accuracy so the higher genetic gain will be obtained. In addition, researchers would be able to generate simple sequence repeats (SSR) markers for species identification and classification.

Whether fungicide application will affect the plant and how it will be done remains unclear. To study hard fescue and fungicide interaction, the researchers carried out an RNA sequencing study to look at global gene expression change before and after the fungicide application. This provides  some insight on how fungicide affects plant metabolism. Information generated from this research program will not only provide breeders a powerful tool to speed up turfgrass breeding work but also inform the public what fungicide will do to plants, so breeders can optimize fungicide application recommendations.

Project Investigators

Joan B
Garett Heineck
Nicole Mihelich
Yinjie Qiu
Dr. Christopher Staley
Professor Eric Watkins
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