A student’s scholarship-winning project at South Dakota State University may help scientists better understand how grapes and other plants respond to drought.

The study could pay off in better production as plant breeders develop varieties for regions facing increased drought stress due to climate change.

Kimberley (Victor) Vaughn, from Laurel, Neb., won the 2011 Joseph F. Nelson Graduate Scholarship at SDSU for the ongoing research, which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

“Current predictions of climate change will force wineries to adjust to drier conditions worldwide,” Vaughn said. “Grapevines are one of the most economically important and widely cultivated crops in the U.S. and internationally. The billion-dollar grape industry is the sixth-leading crop in the U.S. and we rank third in production worldwide. A study of the whole-plant responses and differential gene expression of vascular bundles of grape roots to drought stress could significantly impact how the grape industry prepares for climatic changes.”

Vaughn is carrying out the research with SDSU professor Anne Fennell, a specialist in grapes and woody plants in SDSU’s Department of Horticulture, Forestry, Landscape and Parks. She is isolating cells from Vitis riparia grape root tissues under drought stress by using a technique called laser capture microdissection, or LCM.

In addition to her work at SDSU, Vaughn is participating in an ongoing collaboration through the National Science Foundation-funded Grape Research Coordination Network. That program has enabled Vaughn to travel to the University of Nevada, Reno, in order to observe drought stress studies, learn how to analyze drought stress signaling metabolite data, and work with researchers there on integrating their metabolite data with SDSU’s transcript data.