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James Dombrowski
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3450 SW Campus Way
Corvallis, OR 97331
(541) 738-4147

Research to Improve the Quality of Forage and Turf Grasses

General Background

Much of the world's supply of forage and turf grass seed is produced in the Pacific Northwest (PNW). This seed provides the basis for grass-based agriculture including tall fescue cattle pastures in the southeastern U.S., orchardgrass dairy pastures in the upper Midwest, and annual ryegrass winter overseeding in the South and Midwest. The seed is also used extensively for professional and homeowner turf applications in the U.S. and abroad. The utility of seed produced in the PNW is dependent on performance in end-use environments that differ vastly from the PNW. As a consequence, germplasm must produce economic quantities of high quality seed in the PNW for high quality forage and turf applications in very different environments. There is inadequate knowledge of the genetic and molecular regulation of traits in grasses. Therefore, the focus of our research is to understand and identify the metabolic/signaling pathways controlling these biochemical/physiological processes, and develop practical solutions to address the specific needs of the seed-industry and end-use environments. This research will increase the diversity of germplasm for cool-season grass breeders and provide seed growers with value-added cultivars to address specific markets. This research will benefit livestock producers that require stress-tolerant forage grasses, homeowners and users of professional athletic turfgrass, and scientists interested in the genetic regulation of stress and flowering in other grasses.

As land becomes more limited for conventional agriculture, plants grown on marginal soils will be exposed increased water deficit stress and to higher levels of soil salinity. Forage grasses are a critical component of feed used in livestock production worldwide, with many of these same species of grasses being utilized for, lawns, erosion prevention, and recreation. Drought and salt stress are major abiotic stresses responsible for reduced persistence, yield and biomass accumulation in many crops, including forage. Consequently, it is of great importance to develop a better understanding of drought and salt tolerance in forage species.

Improve Stress Resistance in Grasses

Problem: Biotic and abiotic stresses can have a severe impact on the economic and environmental sustainability of forage and turf grasses.

Objective: Identify and characterize the interactions between the abiotic environmental factors and the biological, molecular and genetic processes controlling growth, persistence, yield, reproduction and physical and chemical development.and utilize this information to improve grass genetic resources.

Goal: To develop molecular approaches that will increase the biotic and abiotic stress tolerance (i.e. drought or salinity) for forage and turf grasses and improve yield and persistence in end-use environments.

Improve Forage Quality of Grasses

Problem: Upon flowering forages grasses lose 40-60% of its nutritive quality due to liginification of tissue (less digestible) or increased energy partitioned for seed development at the cost of vegetative tissue production.

Objective: To understand the molecular mechanisms of flowering in grasses, in order to regulate the onset of reproductive growth in temperate forage grasses.

Goal: To improve biomass production or nutritive quality of grasses by developing approaches to control the expression of specific genes to prevent reproductive growth in end-use environments.

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