Dylan Harding grew up in Toronto, Ontario. Despite his urban childhood environment, Dylan explains that he has been fascinated by agriculture from a very young age. His passion for agriculture blossomed after high school when he entered a job working at an organic farm in Nova Scotia. His post-secondary farming experiences led Dylan to the realization of how involved farming and agriculture actually was – Dylan made the decision to further his education and come to the University of Guelph (UofG), home of the Ontario Agricultural College.
Dylan’s undergraduate experience in the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture program really spoke to his passion, but by his fourth and final year he realized he wanted to continue his education even further, elaborating that “I really liked the application of science in agriculture and that’s what really attracted me to the program – having an understanding of the causative forces in nature and applying them to something that is productive and supports the whole human endeavour in a very fundamental way.”
Dylan’s faculty advisor is Dr. Manish Raizada, Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture. Dylan met Dr. Raizada through writing several chapters for a manual intended to complement Dr. Raizada’s Sustainable Agriculture Kit (SAK) project, as part of an independent study course. Dylan also worked in Dr. Raizada’s lab and developed a heightened interest of endophytes which are defined as microbes that inhabit plants without causing disease. Dylan did not know specifically that he would be working with turfgrasses for his Masters research, but did know that pesticide restrictions are very prevalent in the turfgrass industry.
With pesticide restrictions in in mind, the title of Dylan’s Masters project is “Using Endophytes to Control Dandelions in Turfgrass Systems.” His hypothesis for the research is that bacterial endophytes isolated from Zea- genus grasses (monocots) will suppress the germination and growth of a dicot species, specifically dandelion.
His objectives to test the hypothesis were to:
a) Examine grass endophytes for suppression of dandelion seed germination
b) Examine common turf species for compatibility with dandelion-inhibiting endophytes
Dylan notes that the advantage to working with turfgrasses was the capacity to have many biological replicates in a very small area, making turf an ideal testing ground for endophytes.
“The most interesting outcome of the research was exploring the concept of applying endophytes across a broad range of species and looking for an antagonistic effect. Most previous work with endophytes going across species has focused on beneficial effects, which is intuitive, but still leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the overall relationship between an endophyte, its behaviour and the phylogeny of the host plant.”
Dylan further explains that endophytes may have application to be applied as part of a delivery system (seed coating) for creeping bentgrass to inhibit weed growth on a new sward of turf (putting greens, tee decks, fairways), whether it be a grow-in or renovation situation.
Future research may examine the application of endophytes in the field to an actively growing turfgrass system in order to identify whether inhibition of dandelion seed germination can also be realized. Other graduate students in the Raizada lab have been examining fungal pathogen suppression characteristics of endophytes in turfgrass systems.
To sum up his experience as a grad student in the Department of Plant agriculture, Dylan explains that he “Really enjoyed it and learned a lot – working with a biological organism has had its ups and downs as they sometimes don’t do what you expect them to. This forced me to constantly challenge any assumptions I might be making which was very beneficial as it kept me in an analytical mindset.”
In addition, Dylan spoke of the grad student environment having a lot of fun events like the annual curling tournament and picnics in the summer. He found it is easy to get out and meet people, noting, “people are very open to making new friends – a very welcoming environment.”
Dylan will be defending his thesis this spring and he has high praise for his Masters experience – “It is a great program and Guelph is a fun town too. For the size of it one would be hard pressed to find a more interesting city with more things going on. In terms of the education, to the best of my knowledge, there is no other school in Ontario that can offer the same curriculum and expertise within the faculty.”
Dylan's M.Sc. project recieved funding assistance from: The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and the Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation (OTRF) through the HQP program, as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's support of the project through the Growing Forward 2 Program.
Article authored and published by John R. Watson, Guelph Turfgrass Institute Communications Assistant
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