Improving fine fescue disease resistance with endophytes

By Ruying “Wrennie” Wang and Alec Kowalewski, Oregon State University

The inherent disease resistance associated with fine fescues is partially the result of Epichloë endophytes. Epichloë endophytes are symbiotic fungi that live within the turfgrass and help protect the host plant from various environments stress and pathogens. Previous research has identified Epichloë endophyte strains in hard fescue that provide resistance to dollar spot and red thread diseases. Research at Oregon State University is currently exploring the transference of this symbiotic organism from hard fescue to other fine fescue species and subspecies, as well as other cool-season grasses like perennial ryegrass and tall fescue to improve the disease resistance and stress tolerance of these grasses (Figure 1).    

A woman spraying plants in a greenhouse and a closeup of the turgrass plants on their bench in the greenhouse
Figure 1. Research Associate Dr. Ruying “Wrennie” Wang is transferring naturally occurring symbiotic Epichloë endophytes from hard fescue to other fine fescue species to improve the disease tolerance of these grasses.

Microscopy screening confirmed that the hard fescue endophyte isolate was successfully introduced to strong creeping red fescue. Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina) was also inoculated with the same endophyte isolate but the successful introduction rate was much lower than in strong creeping red fescue.

Field evaluation suggested strong creeping red fescue plants with endophyte introduced were highly tolerant to dollar spot disease compared to their susceptible endophyte-free counterparts. Tolerance to red thread disease under field assessment was inconclusive; we continue to monitor red thread disease. In conclusion, dollar spot resistance has been confirmed to be linked to endophyte presence and can be transferred to other related cool-season turfgrass but introduction rate can vary depending on turf species. More research will be conducted to evaluate the transference of Epichloë endophytes to other turfgrass species and potential endophyte mediated disease resistance.

Funding for this project was provided by the Agricultural Research Foundation and the Northwest Turf Association.