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Department of Horticulture and Crop Science


Vivian Bernau - Exploring chile pepper diversity

After completing her undergraduate degrees in Agronomy and Horticulture at Iowa State University, Vivian Bernau wasn’t sure graduate school was in her future.  However, her fascination with crop biodiversity and conservation kept her involved in research, first conserving maize germplasm as a technician with the USDA Agriculture Research Service in Ames, Iowa, and later exploring the distributions and conservation status of crop wild relatives around the world with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia.   Both experiences served to better focus her research interests and connect her with leaders in her discipline.

Vivian’s interest in the Horticulture and Crop Science program at The Ohio State University was piqued when she learned of work in Dr. Kristin Mercer’s lab on maize in Mexico, but in the end she was seduced by a new project with the opportunity to explore another crop native to Mexico: chile peppers.  According to Vivian, “chile peppers may not be a staple crop, or particularly important for food security, but they have become a culturally important crop around the globe.”

Under the guidance of her co-advisors, Dr. Kristin Mercer and Dr. Leah McHale, Vivian is exploring drought resistance in chile germplasm collected in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Yucatan across temperature and precipitation gradients. Vivian hopes to identify an evolutionary and genetic basis for drought resistance, centering on the hypothesis that local adaptation to precipitation and temperature gradients has led to physiological adaptations, and thus genetic differences, in cultivated landraces and wild populations.

Through her PhD program, Vivian is working towards a career as a germplasm curator.  At OSU she’s had the opportunity to develop teaching and grant writing skills—essential for a future in public research.  She appreciates being a part of the plant research community at OSU and making connections in and beyond Kottman Hall through the Center for Applied Plant Sciences and the department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology.