As representatives from agri-chemical and seed companies seek ways to feed a world population that is projected to balloon during the next half-century, all indications are that genetically modified foods are the way of the future.
In the world of turfgrass, GMO is an acronym that probably will become part of the everyday vernacular for turf managers, as well.
Clemson University's Hong Luo, Ph.D., a professor of genetics and biochemistry, recently received a half-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop genetically improved turfgrass and switchgrass.
Research will focus on developing new turfgrasses that will require less water and will be more tolerant to stressors, such as heat, drought and traffic. Research on switchgrass will be directed toward developing biofuels. Considered a weed, Luo said switchgrass can grow better in poor soil conditions than other biofuel sources, such as corn, and requires less water. He also believes switchgrass eventually could supplant corn as a leading source of biofuel.
Research will focus on developing new turfgrasses that will require less water and will be more tolerant to stressors, such as heat, drought and traffic.
One of the challenges standing in the way of genetically modified turf has been preventing the unintentional spread of seed into fields nearby or downwind. Remember Roundup ready creeping bentgrass?
According to Clemson University, Luo’s approach to containing the engineered genes is to integrate two site-specific DNA recombination systems with sterility-induction mechanisms in the final transgenic product.
When cross-pollinates the two lines in the lab, certain genes will activate and others will be removed, resulting in a new genetic line that is completely sterile and more stress-resistant. These new plants will not produce pollen or seeds, making it impossible for the modified genes to spread in the wild, according to Luo.
Luo anticipates having a genetically modified new line ready for testing at the end of the four-year research project. If all goes well, the new transgenic line would then be ready for the stringent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) field tests before it could potentially be commercialized.
Luo has prior experience with the GMO process. Before joining the Clemson faculty, he was the director of research at HybriGene Inc., where he led the development of the first genetically engineered, environmentally safe, male-sterile and herbicide-resistant turfgrass. He also helped create a new method for hybrid crop production using site-specific DNA recombination systems.