- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - Baseball’s reigning champion Kansas City Royals play on a green carpet of champion Bermuda grass developed by researchers at Oklahoma State University.

The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/1SjoZJ4 ) reports that the field at Kauffman Stadium is covered in Latitude 36, which was named the nation’s best Bermuda grass variety at the conclusion of the 2007-12 National Turf Evaluation Program trials.

Latitude 36 Bermuda grass also is the turf of choice under the feet of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington Redskins and the University of Oklahoma Sooners.

It’s just one of the varieties credited to the OSU Bermuda grass development team, which began its work 30 years ago with the first in a series of grants from the United States Golf Association.

“The focus then was on a high-quality Bermuda grass for golf,” said Dennis Martin, professor and turf grass specialist. “It was well over a decade before the first products were developed.”

Back then researchers were growing the program, as well as the grasses. Building on their success, the program now produces new varieties more quickly.

They are used both close to home and far away. The variety Riviera, which covers the outfield at OSU’s Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, also was used on two baseball fields at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Many of the characteristics that make grass good for golfing, also make it good for athletic fields and residential lawns, Martin said.

Bermuda grasses tolerate close mowing, high traffic, heat and drought. Even so, they can be improved.

Researchers today build on the work their predecessors began in 1986 with continued funding from the USGA and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The new focus is not just producing the old good traits. Now we’re improving drought resistance to try to get the very elite drought-resistant types,” Martin said. “The team’s already making some great strides.”

The results will benefit water conservation efforts and help lawns stay green when Oklahoma goes several weeks without rain, he said.

In a genetics lab, researchers track down the desirable traits to improve turf quality, said Yanqi Wu, associate professor who focuses on grass breeding and genetics.

Wu spends many hours in the greenhouses, where experimental grasses sprout from thousands of little pots.

“This is my second working place. Almost every day I’ll come here, especially during growing season,” Wu said.

He selects the best parents and crossbreeds them to achieve the desired traits. Of 10,000 seedlings produced, only 1 percent or less will be kept. Most of the plants will be thrown out.

“You create it, you nurture it, you kill it,” Wu said. “That’s the most painful part of a the work of a breeder.”

He develops genetically sterile plants so they cannot produce viable pollen grains.

The pollen could self-contaminate the perfect product, Martin said.

“There is no purpose to have it flower. That detracts from the turf grass quality,” he said. “The energy could be used for leaves and stems.”

It takes patience to select the genes, breed the plants, grow and evaluate them. Martin said today’s experiments are about 10 years out from becoming turf on athletic fields, parks and lawns.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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