Main research question/goal
To face climate changes, can we breed grasses that are more tolerant to longer periods of drought? The current assortment of fodder grasses (mainly Lolium) provide high yields of nutritious forage but they are sensitive to drought stress. Festuca grasses are more resilient to drought stress but the cows don’t like the way they taste. Can we use interspecific hybridisations between Festuca and Lolium grasses to combine best of both grasses? Can we develop so-called Festulolium grasses that combine drought tolerance and high palpatibility? Research approach
Interspecific crosses are made between both species and embryo rescue is used to increase the number of siblings per population. Hybrids are characterized cytogenetically to determine to what extent the genomes of both species are combined in the siblings. Genes involved in abiotic stress tolerance in general and more specifically drought tolerance are also isolated. We search for genetic variation between both species and in a final stage, we determine the expression of these genes in the parents and the hybrids grown under drought stress conditions. Finally, the physiological effect of drought is also measured.
These research results provide an idea of how both grass species respond to drought stress. The first interspecific Festulolium hybrids can also be used to determine fodder quality. Knowledge about the genetic regulation of drought stress is the basis for future research on drought tolerance in grasses. This is pre-breeding research; after successfully developing and characterizing interspecific Festulolium, breeders can use this novel grass variety in their breeding programme.