Plant Biology Student Chris Benson Lands $90,000 Grant From United States Golf Association

Chris Benson's work concerns adaptability in the turfgrass species Poa annua, with plans to guide breeding efforts for a phenotypically stable variety with applications on golf course putting greens. That research has attracted significant support from the USGA.

Plant Bio grad student Chris Benson
Plant Bio grad student Chris Benson

Christopher Benson, a graduate student in the Plant Biology graduate Program, has received more than $90,000 in funding from the United States Golf Association to support his research into the bluegrass species Poa annua.

"This is a very significant accomplishment for a graduate student," said Teh-hui Kao, chair of the Plant Biology graduate program.

The USGA is providing a total of $91,824 over three years for the research project, which aims to understand why the species, common on golf courses, has resisted efforts to create a commercially viable dwarf version.

"My hypothesis is that Poa’s phenotypic instability and extreme geographic distribution is at least partially due to the retention of epigenetic marks from one generation to the next," said Benson. "Fitting with this hypothesis, my preliminary work suggests that Poa annua can pass cues about the environment to its offspring."

"My goal is to elucidate the underlying genetic mechanism to Poa’s extreme adaptability, and the USGA funding will allow me to address this question with resolution that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. I plan to use a combination of sequencing techniques to survey the epigenetic landscape of the genome and identify loci that are under intense epigenetic pressure and may be responsible for Poa's proliferation throughout the globe."