13 Mar :Botany is the scientific study of plants. "Plants," to most people, means a wide range of living organisms from the smallest bacteria to the largest living things – the giant Sequoia trees. By this definition plants include: algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants. Today scientists believe bacteria, algae and fungi are in their own distinct kingdoms, but most general botany courses, and most Botany Departments at colleges and universities, still teach about these groups.
Because the field is so broad, there are many kinds of plant biologists and many different opportunities available. Botanists interested in ecology study interactions of plants with other organisms and the environment. Other field botanists search to find new species or do experiments to discover how plants grow under different conditions. Some botanists study the structure of plants. They may work in the field, concentrating on the pattern of the whole plant. Others use microscopes to study the most detailed fine structure of individual cells. Many botanists do experiments to determine how plants convert simple chemical compounds into more complex chemicals. They may even study how genetic information in DNA controls plant development. Botanists study processes that occur on a time scale ranging from fractions of a second in individual cells to those that unfold over eons of evolutionary time.
The results of botanical research increase and improve our supply of medicines, foods, fibers, building materials, and other plant products. Conservationists use botanical knowledge to help manage parks, forests, range lands, and wilderness areas. Public health and environmental protection professionals depend on their understanding of plant science to help solve pollution problems.
Choosing Botany as a Career
Plants have intrigued people for thousands of years. They provide aesthetic beauty as well as materials for our basic needs. Today our world presents new and complex problems that were never dreamed of a century ago. For instance, increasing human population is linked to environmental problems of gigantic proportion. Coupled to the need for more food is increasingly greater environmental impact.
Air and water pollution increase while biological diversity is reduced. Recent progress in technology and molecular biology provide powerful new tools that can help us solve these and other challenging problems. Some of the tools you might learn to use include: electron microscopes, radioisotopes, digital imaging analysis, polymerase chain reaction, cell and tissue culture, satellite imaging and telemetry.
One of the best things about plant science is the number of different specialties and career opportunities from which you can choose. This diversity allows people with different backgrounds, aptitudes, and interests to find satisfying careers in plant biology. More than many other scientific fields, botany continues to provide opportunities for women as well as men. There are few things more fulfilling than to work in a job that is both fun to do and a benefit to others.
Among the careers available to a person who enjoys the outdoors are positions as an ecologist, taxonomist, conservationist, forester, or plant explorer. Your work may take you to foreign and exotic lands. It may allow you to live and work in the great outdoors. A person with a mathematical background might find biophysics, developmental botany, genetics, modeling, or systems ecology to be exciting fields. Someone with an interest in chemistry might become a plant physiologist, plant biochemist, molecular biologist, or chemotaxonomist. Many people do not realize that most of the basic biological processes are the same in both plants and animals. Plants, however, are easier to grow and manipulate.
Plant structure may appeal to a person who enjoys microscopy and the beauty of intricate form and design. Persons fascinated with microscopic organisms often choose microbiology, phycology or mycology. On a larger scale, ornamental horticulture and landscape design requires artistic use of plant form and color. A person concerned about the world food supply might study plant pathology (diseases) or plant breeding. At larger universities there are frequently separate departments specializing in different applied subdisciplines of botany. Some examples are: Agronomy (field crops), Horticulture (ornamentals, fruits and vegetables), Microbiology (microbes such as bacteria and fungi) and Plant Pathology (diseases of plants). Plant biologists who enjoy working with people have a wide range of opportunities in teaching and public service.
Botany and the Society
The explosive growth of human population is changing the earth dramatically. Only by understanding how human activities affect our environment can we predict global climatic changes. Scientific studies of these changes and their effect on natural ecosystems and crop production are crucial to the future of our society.
Other environmental issues, such as pollution, also interest botanists. Many plant species are especially sensitive to certain pollutants. Botanists study the effects of different types of pollution on plants. They use their results to advise lawmakers on legislation for environmental protection and on ways to save priceless natural areas. By using plant tissue culture, botanists can grow entire plants from single cells. This has exciting potential in biotechnology, horticulture, forestry, and plant pathology.
Plants are chemical factories. Many of the chemicals that they produce are useful to humans. Besides food, plants provide raw materials for paper, building materials, solvents and adhesives, fabrics, medicines, and many other products. Botanists study the chemicals produced by different plants to find new uses for them. For example, we use some plant chemicals to treat certain types of cancer.
The earth’s biological diversity, or the kinds of organisms that populate the earth, is decreasing. As humans change the environment for their own purposes, plants and animals living in these areas become increasingly endangered. Plant taxonomists and plant ecologists work to identify and understand new plant species. Plants of the rain forests are important in their own right, but they could be major new resources for people as well. Perhaps a plant as yet undiscovered will become an important food crop. There are probably many undiscovered plants that produce useful drugs to cure or treat human diseases. Biological diversity also provides an important source of new genes to improve the plants we now use.
Current Issues in the Field of Botany
One of the most exciting fields in botany today is biotechnology. Because of very recent advances in genetics, plant scientists have tools to splice genes from one plant into another. The potential usefulness of this is staggering. For example, several amino acids required in the human diet are not produced very well by plants – It may be possible to make major food crops more nutritious by adding genes to produce these deficient amino acids. More research is required, however, before this type of gene transfer becomes useful and practical.
Another challenging area of basic biological research involves cell membranes. All forms of life have cells and all cells have membranes. Plant scientists are trying to understand the important cell activities that involve membranes. For example, living things need energy to survive, but they need cell membranes to use this energy. Membranes also help move materials into and Out of cells. Plant biologists want to understand how membranes work since living things could not exist without cell membranes.
We are learning more and more about plant genes and what they do. Now botanists are turning their attention to how genes work, or express" themselves. Plants are complex living organisms. How a plant develops from a single cell into a complex organism with billions of cells is a problem that will occupy many botanists for years to come. The ease with which we can manipulate plant cells, compared to animal cells, makes plants an ideal model system for such studies.
Teaching botany is a challenging and rewarding career. A teaching botanist must understand a variety of subdisciplines of the field and be able to explain them to students. This provides an opportunity to inspire new generations with an understanding of, and appreciation for, plants.
Many other careers for botanists do not involve teaching or research. Some botanists work in marketing or administration of plant-related industries such as pharmaceutical companies, seed companies, biotechnology firms, scientific publishers and biological supply houses. Other plant biologists work in museums, herbaria, and botanical gardens. Some, with additional training, become scientific writers, computer programmers, botanical illustrators, or even lawyers or physicians. Service in public affairs, at the community and national levels, is an increasingly important role for plant biologists.
AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION IN BOTANY
Plant Biology Specialties
· Anatomy – microscopic plant structure (cells and tissues).
· Biochemistry – chemical aspects of plant life processes. Includes the chemical products of plants (phytochemistry).
· Biophysics – application of physics to plant life processes.
· Cytology – structure, function, and life history of plant cells.
· Ecology – relationships between plants and the world in which they live, both individually and in communities.
· Genetics – plant heredity and variation. Plant geneticists study genes and gene function in plants.
· Molecular biology – structure and function of biological macromolecules, including biochemical and molecular aspects of genetics.
· Morphology – macroscopic plant form. Morphologists also study the evolution and development of leaves, roots and stems.
· Paleobotany – biology and evolution of fossil plants.
· Physiology – functions and vital processes of plants. Photosynthesis and mineral nutrition are two exampies of subjects studied by plant physiologists.
· Systematics – evolutionary history and relationships among plants.
· Systems ecology, uses mathematical models to demonstrate concepts like nutrient cycling.
· Taxonomy is the subdiscipline of identifying, naming, and classifying plants.
Applied Plant Sciences
· Agronomy – crop and soil sciences. Agronomists make practical use of plant and soil sciences to increase the yield of field crops.
· Biotechnology – using biological organisms to produce useful products. Most people today have a narrower view of biotechnology as the genetic modification of living organisms to produce useful products. Plant biotechnology involves inserting desirable genes into plants and having those genes expressed.
· Breeding -development of better types of plants. Breeding involves selecting and crossing plants with desirable traits such as disease resistance.
· Economic botany – plants with commercial importance. Economic botany includes the study of botany harmful and beneficial plants and plant products.
· Food science and technology – development of food from various plant products.
· Forestry – forest management for the production of timber, and conservation.
· Horticulture – the production of ornamental plants and fruit and vegetable crops. Landscape design is also an important subdiscipline in horticulture.
· Natural resource management – the responsible use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of society.
· Plant pathology -diseases of plants. Plant pathologists are concerned with both the biological aspects of disease and with disease management, or control.
· Education – providing knowledge and insight about plants, plant biology, and the crucial ecological roles of plants. Includes teaching in schools, museums and botanical gardens, development of educational materials, and science writing.
· Exploration – search for new, undiscovered plants.
· History – development of botany as a scientific discipline.
· Bryology – the study of mosses and similar plants. Bryologists study all aspects of these plants, including their identification, classification, and ecology.
· Lichenology – the biology of lichens, dual organisms composed of both a fungus and an alga.
· Mycology – the biology of fungi. Fungi have a tremendous impact on our world. They are crucial in the biosphere because they help recycle dead organic material. Some fungi are important producers of biological products such as vitamins and antibiotics.
· Microbiology – the study of microorganisms. Microbiologists may be specialized by organism (for example, microbiologists that study bacteria) of by a branch of biology (for example, microbial ecology).
· Pteridology – the study of ferns and similar plants. Pteridologists study all aspects of fem biology.
· Phycology – the study of algae, which are the base of the food chain in the aquatic environments of the world. Phycologists that study algae in oceans are sometimes called marine botanists.
Author: Mamta Singh and Yatender Singh