Graduate student Jacob Alsdurf studies the Boechera Stricta at BHSU.
Black Hills State University graduate students Jacob Alsdurf and Riston Haugen recently had their individual work published in two research journals.  

Alsdurf, a graduate student in the Integrative Genomics program, had his article titled “Drought-induced trans-generational tradeoff between stress tolerance and defense: consequences for range limits?”  published in the journal AoB Plant. He was also honored with the Editor’s Choice designation which awards articles that the editor finds especially impressive and of a broad interest to the scientific community, according to Dr. David Siemens, associate professor of biology and Alsdurf’s advisor.  The editor noted Alsdurf’s research had been elegantly conducted and dealt with an important issue, Siemens said. Co-authors on the study were BHSU student Tayler Ripley, biology major from Pierre, and Dr. Steven Matzer, biology professor from Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

Alsdurf has been researching the plants Basal rosettes, group of leaves that are arranged in a circular manner around the base where they connect to the roots, and Boechera stricta, a flowering plant in the mustard family, to see differences in drought-induced plants compared to those that received 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 found plants that look natural and non-drought tolerant, but when he tests the plants, they are a drought plant. He is researching 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? I wonder why some meadows aren’t covered in plants but others are,” he said. Alsdurf has been researching these plants since 2011. He is currently working on figuring out the molecular mechanism for the things that people can see in drought and non-drought plants.

Haugen, also a student in the BHSU Integrative Genomics master’s program, had an article he co-authored with Siemens titled “Plant chemical defense allocation constrains evolution of tolerance to community change across a range boundary” published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

“We found a novel genetic tradeoff that may help explain low elevation trailing edge range limit development in an upland mustard species,” Siemens said.

Haugen is also a co-author on another paper recently published in PLOS ONE, an open access journal, titled “Major Transcriptome Reprogramming Underlies Floral Mimicry Induced by the Rust Fungus Boechera stricta.” Other authors of the paper were from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, U.K. Haugen spent a month at the lab working on the collaboration. His research on the rust fungus’s ability to manipulate the genes of a wild mustard plant and create a fake flower was also documented by a National Geographic photographer earlier this spring.

The team at BHSU is currently conducting experiments from extended generation hybrids to test their genetic hypotheses experimentally and to see if there may also be supporting molecular evidence. “We’ve done a lot of experiments manipulating environmental variables, but these are the first genetic experiments that we have conducted” Siemens added.  One-time state funds helped to purchase a walk-in plant growth room to support these experiments.  “We finally have the space needed to conduct these large genetic experiments.  All of these experiments are powerful learning tools for the students, and I also use them in the classroom to engage more students in fundamental topics,” Siemens said.