Gene tests fast-track grass varieties

British Seed Houses breeding programmes use genotype mapping of seedlings to eliminate the need for long field trials.

Work on genotype mapping and marker-assisted breeding undertaken on British Seed Houses (BSH) grass varieties could speed up the process of bringing products to market.

The new processes allow plants to be tested as seedlings, eliminating the need for long field trials that can take between 10 and 30 years. They have been developed at the Aberystwyth University Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences, which has worked with BSH since 1987.

All BSH breeding is done in the UK with cultivars selected from UK grasses. Previous varieties produced by the breeding programme had good quality and performance but low seed yield, which limited their commercial viability.

Head of the amenity grass breeding programme Sheena Duller said: "The genetic base had become quite narrow, so I needed to inject a bigger range of traits. We need the traits that make up high turf quality and good seed yield."

BSH managing director William Gilbert added that the breeding programme had gone back to first principles.

"Our earlier varieties were excellent but had a serious problem - you wouldn't want to keep them perennially.

"We are confident that with Sheena at the head of the breeding programme we can strip things back and try to bring the important characteristics together without dropping very important ones such as seed yield."

The company has links with overseas breeders to fill any gaps while new varieties are being cultivated.

The next new product from BSH will be AberRegal, to be commercially available in 2013. It has many traits to complement AberRoyal, the first UK-bred brown-top bent, including fineness of leaf, high shoot density and resistance to Fusarium.

British Seed Houses Grasses produced

AberElf The first UK-bred perennial ryegrass in 1997.

AberImp Followed in 2001. The only Ryegrass to top table S1 for winter sports use and table L1 for summer sports use in the turfgrass booklet.

AberSprite The top perennial ryegrass for turf production and high-quality summer sport and landscape applications.

AberFlight The first UK-bred slender creeping red fescue.

AberCharm Supersedes AberFlight. Available in commercial quantities from spring 2012. UK-bred with good winter and summer colour.

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