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SAGES
Sustainable grasslands withstanding environmental stresses

Perennial grasslands occupy 40% of land used by the European Union for agriculture, but all high quality forage grasses lack stress resistance. The project coordinates multidisciplinary groups to combine traditional and novel techniques to develop the means for breeding precisely targeted traits. New robust grass varieties will be created, which will improve grassland productivity and persistency, benefit incomes, and help maintain fragile rural communities. Using natural diversity and conventional breeding, combinations of genes governing adaptations to diverse abiotic stresses will be transferred to chromosome locations in high-quality grasses where they are both functional and stable.

Objectives
The objectives of this project are to establish the generic technologies for producing new stress-resistant (drought-resistant or winter hardy) grasses suitable for the whole of Europe, and to exploit those using natural breeding systems and existing experimental populations. The scientific partners will develop new populations combining the high yield and quality of Lolium (ryegrass) with the stress-resistance of Festuca (fescue). The objective of the scientific partners is to use the resulting markers to 'dissect' the traits into their component parts and develop tools for marker-assisted selection. The associated objective of the four commercial partners is, in association with the scientific partners, to exploit the germplasm and markers against defined commercial objectives. Their ultimate objective is to develop new forage grass varieties that are robust, high quality, persistent, productive and environmentally friendly.

Progress to Date
SAGES comprises three work packages:
1) 'Technologies for dissecting and manipulating traits'
2) 'Exploitation of androgenesis'
3) 'Technology transfer and the commercial development of improved novel germplasm'

Work Package 1: This comprises the study of plant populations mainly of Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) containing genes for stress resistance derived from genetically similar fescue species (Festuca sp.).
Work Package 2: New populations of plants derived from pollen culture of L. multiflorum x F. pratensis cultivars Sulino, Felopa, and Rakopan have been produced in Poland, Norway, and UK, with good drought resistance and/or winter-hardiness.
Work Package 3: The common field trials were established successfully and managed effectively in collaborations between the scientific and commercial partners in each country. Comparable detailed measurements of winter and summer survival were made at each site. Detailed meteorological data was assembled for each site so that field performance and genotype x environment interactions may be assessed.

Results
1) technology transfer of GISH chromosome analysis from IGER, UK to AUN, Norway. Screening at IGER of Norwegian-selected plant materials
2) GISH chromosome analysis of INRA plant selections
3) further training in the use of AFLP technologies provided to IPG PhD student at INRA
4) consortium's plant materials in common field trials in all four partner countries. Extensive measurements were taken of winter and summer survival at all sites. Additional chemical and NIR analysis was done of all plant materials in each country to determine digestibility and quality characters.
5) physiological analysis of plant materials was carried out for drought resistance and nutrient-use-efficiency
6) comparisons of simulated freeze tests on plant populations
7) detailed physiological analysis and comparisons for winter hardiness of plants derived by a) anther culture and b) introgression
8) ryegrass plants selected for presence of fescue genes and winter-hardiness derived from F. pratensis or F. arundinacea or drought resistance derived from F. arundinacea or F. glaucescens
9) molecular markers assigned to fescue genes for stress resistance for use in developing breeders' toolkits and for future variety development
10) questionnaire returned from French farmers and the agricultural industry on interest in, and requirements for, growing Festulolium in France
11) details of SAGES work described at conferences
12) scientific papers are in preparation, submitted, in press, or published.

Classified in GRASSLAND, CAP AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Scientist responsible for the project

Dr MICHAEL HUMPHREYS
Plas Gogerddan
SY23 3EB Aberystwyth
United Kingdom (The) - GB

Phone: +44 1970 823098
Fax: +44 1970 823242
E-mail: mike.humphreys@bbsrc.ac.uk

References

Project ID QLRT-1999-30764
Organisation Institute of Grasslands & Environmental Research
Area 5.1.1
Start date 01 January 2001
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 2 613 555 €
Total EC contribution   1 563 233 €
Status Completed

The partners

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