Endophytes hold key to improved forages

Fungal endophytes may hold the key to improving the forage quality of tall fescues, says Joe Bouton, a Senior Vice President and Director of the Noble Foundation’s Forage Improvement Division in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Bouton recently discussed the Noble Foundation’s efforts at the International Symposium on Fungal Endophytes of Grasses in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“The Noble Foundation is involved in expanding plant science at every level from local and regional to nationally and internationally,” said Bouton. “Fungal endophyte research is a (rapidly) expanding field because of what (endophytes) can do for plants. Fungal endophytes live inside plants, such as tall fescue, and have a mutually beneficial relationship with their hosts, often improving the plant’s persistence and performance.”

Tall fescue, a cool-season perennial grass, is a staple of U.S. farmers and ranchers and covers more than 40 million acres in the United States alone. Tall fescue is naturally infected with fungal endophytes, some of which are not beneficial to livestock, Bouton said.

In his keynote address, Bouton detailed how fungal endophyte research has increased persistence in new varieties of tall fescue, while helping to eliminate the negative effects on livestock. Bouton also announced at the symposium that the Noble Foundation will be releasing a new tall fescue variety containing a beneficial endophyte in 2009.

Additionally he outlined the future of this expanding research field and emphasized how the symposium has provided an important venue for scientists to share information and ideas.

“The Noble Foundation is leading groundbreaking research in the field of fungal endophytes,” he said. “Our work has far-reaching implications, not just for scientists, but farmers and ranchers – regionally, nationally and internationally—are also going to benefit from the research occurring right here in southern Oklahoma.”

“These international trips allow scientists an opportunity to share research and experiences,” said Kelly Craven, another Noble Foundation researcher who attended the symposium.

“Some of the greatest ideas in science come when scientists actually sit down together, discuss their research and collaborate on new approaches and new ideas. It’s exciting to know that discussing fungal endophyte research in New Zealand can have a significant impact on farmers there and here in Oklahoma and all of the places in between.”

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