Graduate students honored for articles

Jacob Alsdurf tests the genetic structure of the plant Boechera stricta.

Courtesy of Jacob Alsdurf

Jacob Alsdurf tests the genetic structure of the plant Boechera stricta.

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Black Hills State University graduate students Jacob Alsdurf and Riston Haugen were recently published in articles about their studies at the college.

Haugen’s article titled, “Plant chemical defense allocation constrains evolution of tolerance to community change across a range boundary,” was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Alsdurf’s article was recently published in the Oxford University Press journal AoB PLANTS and was honored with an “Editor’s Choice” designation. The editor noted that the research had been elegantly conducted and that it dealt with a very important issue. Alsdurf’s piece was titled “Drought-induced trans-generational tradeoff between stress tolerance and defense: consequences for range limits?”

Alsdurf, BHSU graduate student of integrative genomics, has been working with plants’Basal rosettes and Boechera stricta to see the differences in drought-induced plants compared to those which receive a lot of water and nutrients.

“Plants that have a history of drought are more drought-tolerant, but they stop producing a chemical defense which is a glucose stimulant,” Alsdurf said. “This means that these plants can live in this environment but they will get eaten by grasshoppers and other bugs, because they do not have that chemical defense that hydrated plants have.”

Alsdurf has come across plants that look natural and non-drought, but when he tests the plants they are a drought plant. He is working on figuring out what is in the plant that is allowing it to be green and lush under drought conditions.

“I want to know why plants aren’t moving past certain boundaries. Are there more insects? Or is it a dryer range past where these plants are?” said Alsdurf. “I wonder why some meadows aren’t covered in plants but others are.”

Alsdurf has been researching these plants and asking ecological questions since spring of 2011. He is currently working on figuring out the molecular mechanism for the things that people can see in drought and non-drought plants.

“We can all see the differences in these plants. Even in the plants in your home, you can see if it is a drought-induced plant or nota��but I want to know why,” Alsdurf said. “Drought is an environmental effect that effects the DNA methylation; I am trying to find out which genes are being affected by droughts.”

A plant that Alsdurf is working close with is Arabidopsis, which is similar to the Boechera stricta. Alsdurf will take fragments of the Boechera and compare the known genes to the Arabidopsis, so he can tell which genes the drought is effecting.

“When I came in I was looking at the genetic aspect of these plants, but now I am looking at the molecular aspect of this drought,” Alsdurf said. “We see this cool effect in the plants, but we need to figure out why this effect is taking place.”

Alsdruf is hoping to get into a Ph.D. program after he graduates in May from BHSU’s graduate program. He is hoping to get in somewhere that has a plant genetics program.

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