1. Staff

Malay Saha, Ph.D.

Professor

Current Research

problem
The Problem

Drought is the single most important constraint to crop productivity. Severe water limitations, especially for agricultural use, have been observed in many areas of the world. According to various prediction models, the scenario is likely to get worse due to increase in aridity. The persistence of perennial grasses largely depends on their ability to tolerate drought and heat stresses. Tall fescue is an important cool-season perennial hay and pasture grass grown on 14 million hectacres (about 34.6 million acres) in the United States. Despite being perennial, the Continental (summer active) tall fescue cultivars usually do not persist beyond two to four years in the south central U.S. because of hot and dry summers. On average, 40 percent to 60 percent stand loss/year of tall fescue was observed in the region. However, 100 percent stand loss of the crop can also be encountered after a harsh summer like 2011 and 2012. Persistence can be improved through introduction of drought tolerance in Continental and summer dormancy in Mediterranean tall fescue morphotypes. The development and release of drought tolerant and summer dormant tall fescue cultivars would benefit livestock farmers in this region.

approach
The Approach

Simple, reliable and repeatable phenotyping procedures of stress tolerance can facilitate rapid screening of large numbers of germplasms to identify superior genotypes. A screening protocol has been developed to simultaneously evaluate root and shoot traits under drought stress. Germplasm resources from GRIN and breeding populations were screened. Genotypes from both ends of drought response distribution have been selected. Field evaluation of the selected genotypes is ongoing. Genotypes with enhanced drought tolerance will be used to develop synthetic populations. Selection cycles will be continued to increase the frequency of favorable alleles in breeding populations. A mapping population developed by crossing drought tolerant and susceptible genotypes has been genotyped following the genotyping by sequencing protocol. Greenhouse evaluation of the population has been accomplished. Field evaluation of the same population is in progress. Morphological and physiological study related to water use efficiency and drought tolerance have been performed. The genotypic and phenotypic data will be used to identify genetic loci associate with drought related traits. Transcriptome studies are underway to identify genes and genetic mechanisms that contribute to drought tolerance. Validation of key gene targets using qRT-PCR and VIGS protocols is ongoing. Metabolomics profiling of genotypes with contrasting drought tolerant characteristics is in progress. Similar strategies have been undertaken for the improvement of summer dormancy in Mediterranean tall fescue.

Current Projects

  • Improving water use efficiency, drought tolerance and persistence of tall fescue
  • Deciphering summer dormancy in tall fescue
  • Marker-assisted breeding for improving forage digestibility in tall fescue
  • Identification of N use efficient bermudagrass and wheat plants from natural populations
  • GWAS studies to identify QTL and molecular markers associated with nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and related traits in bermudagrass
  • Detect genetic loci and/or genes associated with important traits in switchgrass
  • Establishment to senescence: plant-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions mediate switchgrass sustainability
Education
  • Ph.D., Plant Sciences, 2002, North Dakota State University
Grants

Project Title: Establishment to senescence: plant-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions mediate switchgrass sustainability
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Term: Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2020

Project Title: Improving water use efficiency, drought tolerance and persistence of tall fescue and alfalfa
Source: Noble Research Institute, Forage 365
Term: Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2017

Project Title: Improving nitrogen use efficiency in forage grass species while maintaining yield and nutrient status
Source: Noble Research Institute, Forage 365
Term: Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2017

Project Title: Deciphering natural allelic variation in switchgrass for biomass yield and quality using a nested association mapping population
Source: U.S. Department of Energy/Biological and Environmental Research
Term: Sept. 1, 2012 to Aug. 31, 2016

Project Title: BioEnergy Science Center
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Term: Nov. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2017

Project Title: Association mapping of cell wall synthesis regulatory genes and cell wall quality in switchgrass
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Term: Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2014

Project Title: Genomic technologies to enhance switchgrass breeding (schedules 3, 5 and 7)
Source: Ceres Inc.
Term: Jan. 1, 2007 to June 30, 2014

Project Title: Linkage analysis appropriate for comparative genome analysis and trait selection in switchgrass
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy
Term: Oct. 1, 2007 to July 31, 2011

Project Title: Underpinning genetics of biomass yield, quality and sustainability in Miscanthus and switchgrass
Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, U.K.-U.S. Partnering Award
Term: Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2011

Project Title: Resource development in switchgrass, an important bioenergy crop for the USA
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy
Term: Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2010

Honors
  • Fourth Place, Graduate Student Presentation Competition in Annual Meeting of The Potato Association of America, 2001
  • First Place, Humorous Speech Contest, Lake Division, Toastmaster International, 2001
  • Agricultural Research and Management Project Fellowship, Bangladesh, 1998
Released Varieties
  • NF101 wheat (released 2014, commercialized by Oklahoma Genetics Inc.)
  • NF201 triticale (released 2013, commercialized by Oklahoma Genetics Inc.)
  • NF306 (Maton II) rye (released 2006, re-released 2013, commercialized by Oklahoma Genetics Inc.)
  • NF307 (BatesRS4) rye (released 2012, commercialized by Athens Seed Co.)
  • NF401 (Heavy Grazer II) oat (released 2012, commercialized by East Texas Seed Co.)
  • NF402 oat (released 2013, commercialized by Oklahoma Genetics Inc.)