EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 29EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 29 technology allowed scientists to develop methods that could identify DNA variations single nucleotide poly morph isms between genomes on a large scale and at affordable prices. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of markers were at hand and the idea of performing genomic selection in grasses became a realistic scenario. With respect to genomic selection plants are selected based on their genetic potential rather than data from the field. The method was already used for some years in animal breeding but in contrast to animals grasses are bred as families not as si n g le i nd iv idua ls severa l scientific challenges had to be solved. At Barenbrug genomic selection is around the corner or already implemented. Also higher throughput phenotyping systems are being studied or used in grass breeding. Other topics that are getting more and more attention are drought- and salt tolerance nutrient use efficiency and insect resistance. EXPEDITED BREEDING PROCESS In 2010 in collaboration with molecular geneticists at Aarhus University in Denmark DLF started developing genomic selection in diploid forage ryegrass. By 2015 for the first time breeders were able to set up synthetic variety crosses based on genomic predictions. That same year the company initiated genomic selection in tetraploid forage ryegrass and is now moving into turf ryegrass. The benefits associated with the use of genomic selection in grass breeding include the following breeders can shortcut field trials and thereby save up to four years of development time reduces the number of costly field plots due to pre-selection improves the options for selecting multiple traits simultaneously. Genomic selection will make significant increases in annual breeding gains. The engine in the system is the prediction model which associates each trait with a certain marker profile. With this model every important trait can be estimated for each new breeding line based on its DNA marker profile. SCALED-DOWN FIELD TRIALS Field trialling will be scaled down to fewer lines which are only used to train the prediction model according to the current conditions. The next step will be to develop prediction models for the best parent match so unsuccessful crosses can be limited in the future. At this moment genomic selection can only be justified in large species such as perennial ryegrass but this situation will certainly change if sequencing prices continue to drop. MATURING TECHNOLOGIES The company Germinal applies marker- assisted selection which has the potential to improve the speed of breeding progress. Genetic modification has been possible in grasses for many years but so far only some turfgrass varieties have been released and not yet in Europe. Great care must be taken as many grasses readily hybridise and a forage grass to a grass farmer is often a weed to a crop farmer. Theoretically it should be possible to produce a grass that does not head under normal farm practices. This would provide a more even spread of forage production. The genes that suppress heading would be turned off for seed production by the application of an appropriate chemical. There has been work on true hybrid ryegrass distinct from crosses between Italian and perennial ryegrass. There has also been talk of greatly increased yields. These claims should be viewed with caution since current varieties are restricted populations that already express considerable hybrid vigour. Grass is everywhere and we as humans have been enjoying it for centuries. Whether we are having a barbeque in our garden see our kids playing sports at school watching a good game on a well maintained pitch or having a nice picnic in the park a good piece of grass is worth its weight in gold. Innovations in ryegrass breeding make sure that all those lawns golf courses and sports pitches can keep up with the challenges they are faced with and we can continue to enjoy grass for ages to come.