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Research Update:

Thomas Gianfagna

Professor
Thomas Gianfagna headshot.
Thomas Gianfagna.

Identification, Methods and Characterization of Fungal Endophytes in Turf and Pasture Grasses

My research focuses on the fungal endophytes in turf and pasture grasses. Endophytic fungi are present in plants but are not pathogenic. In fact, they may be symbiotic. The endophytes take up food and nutrients from the plant, but provide insect resistance and environmental stress tolerance to the plant. Unfortunately, they also make alkaloids that are toxic horses and grazing animals. We have identified tall fescue selections from the Rutgers breeding program that contain endophytes that produce animal-friendly alkaloids that are safe for horse pastures but are still toxic to insects.

Another aspect of our work is to develop rapid screening methods to identify grass endophytes. We produced a specific antibody to a fungal protein that is secreted by the endophyte into the intercellular fluid of the grass. This allows us to screen large numbers of grass selections and identify those that contain the beneficial fungal endophyte.