Dr. Yanqi Wu was the co-recipient of the 2018 Breeders Award, presented by the Turfgrass Breeders Association, for his part in the development of Latitude 36®, which was released by Oklahoma State University alongside NorthBridge® Bermudagrass. These two revolutionary bermudagrasses have taken the sports and golf world by storm and have given homeowners the option to enjoy the benefits of the same beautiful looking, hardwearing, cold tolerant, drought resistant bermudagrass found on NFL and MLB stadiums and NCAA field venues throughout the country.
We recently caught up with Dr. Wu at the 2019 Sport Turf Managers Association’s Annual Conference and were able to ask him a few questions about his path to bermudagrass research and development and his vision going forward. Thank you for chatting with us, Dr. Wu!
1. Tell us about yourself. How did you wind up studying turfgrass?
Wu: I grew up in China. I had a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a Master of Science in Forage Science from two Chinese institutions. Then, I was hired to work as a faculty member to do research and teach forage science-related courses at Sichuan Agricultural University in China in 1988. In the 1990s, a new turf industry started to appear and grow in the nation. I saw potential in the turf industry and went on to earn a Ph.D. degree in turfgrass science. More specifically, I planned to be a turf bermudagrass breeder because bermudagrass is the most widely used warm season turfgrass in the world.
2. When you came to Oklahoma State, what was your first priority?
Wu: In 2000, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States because of the world-class turfgrass science programs that have been developed in this nation. I searched the literature and communicated with professors in turfgrass science who might be able to recommend bermudagrass breeding programs in the US. The search guided me to Oklahoma State University and Dr. Charles Taliaferro. I contacted Dr. Taliaferro, and soon after, he offered me a Ph.D. graduate research assistantship. My first priority was to earn a doctoral degree.
3. What were the challenges when you came to OSU in the breeding department?
Wu: I performed research work and studied under the direction of Dr. Taliaferro beginning in 2001 and earned my Ph.D. degree in 2004. As a matter of fact, I greatly enjoyed my course study and scientific research. From 2004 to 2006, I completed two years of postdoctoral research at the USDA ARS Plant Science Laboratory. I was hired as an assistant professor in 2006 and lead the OSU turfgrass breeding program after Dr. Taliaferro retired. A major challenge was how to breed and develop new turf bermudagrass cultivars that were better than the best existing commercial varieties such as Patriot, Tifway and others.
4. How did Latitude 36 and NorthBridge come about? Were you looking for something or some attribute in particular?
Wu: Dr. Taliaferro left numerous advanced bermudagrass experimental selections for us to work on. 11×19 (OKC 1119, later named Latitude 36) and 11×34 (OKC 1134, NorthBridge) were two of more than 30 selections tested in a replicated field trial by Dr. Dennis Martin, a professor of turfgrass science of OSU. We submitted these two selections to the 2007-2012 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program National Bermudagrass Test because the two grasses exhibited exceptional turfgrass quality, early spring green up, excellent sod tensile strength and some other favorable characteristics.
a. Was the goal to find something more cold tolerant than Patriot?
Wu: One of our breeding goals was, and still is, to improve cold hardiness in new experimental selections. The more improvement for cold hardiness, the less risk of winterkill when bermudagrass is used in the northern portion of the US transition zone. We tested and characterized advanced selections for winter survivability and freeze tolerance. We knew it was possible to make improvement in the trait because our bermudagrass germplasm at OSU arguably is one of the largest collections in the world, in which some contain cold hardiness genes. Latitude 36® and NorthBridge® are both improved for cold hardiness.
5. Did you imagine that your grasses would someday be on major sports fields and golf courses all over the world?
Yes, I did, that has been part of my working dream. Dr. Taliaferro’s breeding program made a reputation in the world. As I mentioned before, I knew his name and reached out to him for my education even before I met him in person. My working goal has been to continue and improve on his established breeding program.
6. What’s next for you, Dr. Wu? In 10 years, what else would you liked to accomplish here?
Wu: We, a team of scientists and collaborators, work hard in an attempt to combine high turf quality, drought resistance and cold hardiness into new experimental varieties. In addition, we are working to develop new fine bermudagrass for green use on golf courses. In the next 10 years, we will see more drought resistant bermudagrass varieties and new ultradwarf varieties from our breeding program going to the turf industry. These are long time efforts needing a lot of support. I sincerely appreciate the US Golf Association, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Additionally, I appreciate turf industry partners like Sod Solutions and my colleagues of OSU and other universities for their funding, support and collaboration.
Latitude 36 and NorthBridge have been used at professional levels from major league baseball, golf, and NCAA from California to Virginia. Check out all of the places Latitude 36 and NorthBridge Bermudagrasses are used throughout the United States below:
If you’re interested in the two bermudagrasses, you can buy Latitude 36 or NorthBridge sod online or check out Latitude 36 plugs below. The two maps represent the areas Latitude 36 and NorthBridge can successfully grow in the United States.
For more information on bermudagrass, visit our All About Bermudagrass Sod blog. If you currently have Latitude 36 or NorthBridge for your lawn, check out our Latitude 36 and NorthBridge Homeowner Maintenance Guidelines for tips and tricks to keep your lawn healthy all year long.