Novel strategies for genetic improvement of disease resistance in perennial ryegrass

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Participants Organisations


  • Innovate UK: £237,467.00

Funder Project Reference(s)

Effective start/end date01 Apr 201531 Mar 2020


Perennial ryegrass (PRG) provides the majority of forage for livestock in the UK. Drechslera andersonii or net blotch is a serious fungal disease of PRG, and the UK is at high or medium risk. Yield effects can be over 1t DM per hectare in the first cut (British Society of Plant Breeders - Recommended List). Few current diploid varieties have good resistance, and the UK bred high sugar grass (HSG) varieties show poor resistance. Fungicide use is not a viable option. Reduction in the use of HSG varieties will lead to decreasing sales and increase in imported varieties with higher resistance, but without the high sugar content, which improves ruminant nutrition efficiency. The project brings together the only UK owned forage grass and legume seed production and wholesale company (Germinal Holdings Ltd), and the major forage plant breeding and genetics research organisation within the UK (IBERS, Aberystwyth University) in a consortium that has the skills and commercial experience to deliver new net blotch resistant PRG varieties with HSG characteristics. IBERS, Aberystwyth University will breed net blotch resistant HSG varieties using a novel backcross strategy aided by genomic selection. This will increase the speed with which disease resistant hybrids recover previous values of agronomic and HSG traits. This has not been done before in a ryegrass breeding programme. New net blotch resistant HSG ryegrass varieties will help GHL maintain and increase market share in the UK and abroad. We have identified ecotypes with high net blotch resistance. They will initially be crossed with AberWolf, a high performing HSG varieties with low net blotch resistance. The F1 progeny will be assessed phenotypically for disease resistance, and genotyped with a 4000 molecular marker SNP chip. This allows us to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for net blotch resistance. Secondly, prediction models have been developed to derive genomic estimated breeding values for agronomic and forage quality traits. This will enable us to select the best candidates for disease resistance as well as HSG traits. A polycross of the F1 plants will be performed to guarantee segregation of the disease resistance traits. By year 5 three further rounds of backcrossing with the recurrent HSG parent will have been completed. Seed will be set aside from year 3 for small scale field trials in Devon for the remaining two years. These field trials will also include a wide range of susceptible and resistant material with high or low water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content for comparison and as controls. These rigorous trials will ensure that by the end of the project, we will have populations with much higher net blotch resistance in addition to the beneficial properties of AberHSG varieties in terms of yield, WSC and digestibility. A range of activities will be undertaken to publicise this work, and thus facilitate fast on-farm uptake of these new varieties. This includes communication with seed distributors, advisors and farmers. The technology will be demonstrated at various livestock shows, including demonstration plots, where possible. GHL will also produce easy to follow management guidelines for farmers.

Key findings

The main objective is to generate perennial ryegrass high sugar grass breeding populations with improved resistance to leaf spot disease, an increasingly important fungal pathogen. This is done through a backcrossing programme from ecotypes with high resistance into IBERS high sugar grass elite breeding populations. So far we have reached the F2 generation, and the crossing has proceeded according to plan. Genotypic data are now available to assist in the selection of best candidates for further backcrossing.