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AIPMTBotanyNotes:ConceptsinBotany

Introduction
Botanyisthescientificstudyofplantlife.Asabranchofbiology,itisalsocalledplant
science(s),phytology,orplantbiology.Botanycoversawiderangeofscientificdisciplines
thatstudyplants,algae,andfungiincluding:Structure,growth,reproduction,metabolism,
development,diseases,andchemicalpropertiesandevolutionaryrelationshipsbetweenthe
differentgroups.
Thestudyofplantsandbotanybeganwithtriballore,usedtoidentifyedible,medicinaland
poisonousplants,makingbotanyoneoftheoldestsciences.Fromthisancientinterestin
plants,thescopeofbotanyhasincreasedtoincludethestudyofover550,000kindsor
speciesoflivingorganisms.

Scopeandimportanceofbotany
Aswithotherlifeformsinbiology,plantlifecanbestudiedfromdifferentperspectives,from
themolecular,geneticandbiochemicallevelthroughorganelles,cells,tissues,organs,
individuals,plantpopulations,andcommunitiesofplants.Ateachoftheselevelsabotanist
mightbeconcernedwiththeclassification(taxonomy),structure(anatomyandmorphology),
orfunction(physiology)ofplantlife.
Historically,botanycoversallorganismsthatwerenotconsideredtobeanimals.Someof
theseplantlikeorganismsincludefungi(studiedinmycology),bacteriaandviruses
(studiedinmicrobiology),andalgae(studiedinphycology).Mostalgae,fungi,andmicrobes
arenolongerconsideredtobeintheplantkingdom.However,attentionisstillgiventothem
bybotanists,andbacteria,fungi,andalgaeareusuallycoveredinintroductorybotany
courses.
Thestudyofplantshasimportanceforanumberofreasons.Plantsareafundamentalpartof
lifeonEarth.Theygeneratetheoxygen,food,fibres,fuelandmedicinethatallowhigherlife
formstoexist.Plantsalsoabsorbcarbondioxidethroughphotosynthesis,aminorgreenhouse
gasthatinlargeamountscanaffectglobalclimate.Itisbelievedthattheevolutionofplants
haschangedtheglobalatmosphereoftheearthearlyintheearth'shistoryand
paleobotanistsstudyancientplantsinthefossilrecord.Agoodunderstandingofplantsis
crucialtothefutureofhumansocietiesasitallowsusto:
Producefoodtofeedanexpandingpopulation
Understandfundamentallifeprocesses
Producemedicineandmaterialstotreatdiseasesandotherailments
Understandenvironmentalchangesmoreclearly

Humannutrition
Allfoodseatencomefromplants,eitherdirectlyfromstaplefoodsandotherfruitand
vegetables,orindirectlythroughlivestockorotheranimals,whichrelyonplantsfortheir
nutrition.Plantsarethefundamentalbaseofnearlyallfoodchainsbecausetheyusethe
energyfromthesunandnutrientsfromthesoilandatmosphereandconvertthemintoa
formthatcanbeconsumedandutilizedbyanimalsthisiswhatecologistscallthefirst
trophiclevel.
Botanistsalsostudyhowplantsproducefoodwecaneatandhowtoincreaseyieldsand

thereforetheirworkisimportantinmankind'sabilitytofeedtheworldandprovidefood
securityforfuturegenerations,forexamplethroughplantbreeding.
Botanistsalsostudyweeds,plantswhichareconsideredtobeanuisanceinaparticular
location.Weedsareaconsiderableprobleminagriculture,andbotanyprovidessomeofthe
basicscienceusedtounderstandhowtominimizeweedimpactinagricultureandnative
ecosystems.Ethnobotanyisthestudyoftherelationshipsbetweenplantsandpeople.

Fundamentallifeprocesses
Plantsareconvenientorganismsinwhichfundamentallifeprocesses(likecelldivisionand
proteinsynthesisforexample)canbestudied,withouttheethicaldilemmasofstudying
animalsorhumans.ThegeneticlawsofinheritancewerediscoveredinthiswaybyGregor
Mendel,whowasstudyingthewaypeashapeisinherited.
WhatMendellearnedfromstudyingplantshashadfarreachingbenefitsoutsideofbotany.
Additionally,BarbaraMcClintockdiscoveredjumpinggenesbystudyingmaize.Thesearea
fewexamplesthatdemonstratehowbotanicalresearchhasanongoingrelevancetothe
understandingoffundamentalbiologicalprocesses.

Medicineandmaterials
Manymedicinalandrecreationaldrugs,liketetrahydrocannabinol,caffeine,andnicotine
comedirectlyfromtheplantkingdom.Othersaresimplederivativesofbotanicalnatural
productsforexampleaspirinisbasedonthepainkillersalicylicacidwhichoriginallycame
fromthebarkofwillowtrees.Theremaybemanynovelcuresfordiseasesprovidedby
plants,waitingtobediscovered.Popularstimulantslikecoffee,chocolate,tobacco,andtea
alsocomefromplants.Mostalcoholicbeveragescomefromfermentingplantssuchasbarley
maltandgrapes.
Plantsalsoprovideuswithmanynaturalmaterials,suchascotton,wood,paper,linen,
vegetableoils,sometypesofrope,andrubber.Theproductionofsilkwouldnotbepossible
withoutthecultivationofthemulberryplant.Sugarcane,rapeseed,soyandotherplantswith
ahighlyfermentablesugaroroilcontenthaverecentlybeenputtouseassourcesof
biofuels,whichareimportantalternativestofossilfuels,seebiodiesel.

Environmentalchanges
Plantscanalsohelpusunderstandchangesinonourenvironmentinmanyways.
Understandinghabitatdestructionandspeciesextinctionisdependentonanaccurateand
completecatalogofplantsystematicsandtaxonomy.
Plantresponsestoultravioletradiationcanhelpusmonitorproblemsliketheozone
depletion.
Analyzingpollendepositedbyplantsthousandsormillionsofyearsagocanhelpscientists
toreconstructpastclimatesandpredictfutureones,anessentialpartofclimatechange
research.
Recordingandanalyzingthetimingofplantlifecyclesareimportantpartsofphenology
usedinclimatechangeresearch.
Lichens,whicharesensitivetoatmosphericconditions,havebeenextensivelyusedas
pollutionindicators.
Inmanydifferentways,plantscanactalittleliketheminerscanaryanearlywarning

systemalertingustoimportantchangesinourenvironment.Inadditiontothesepractical
andscientificreasons,plantsareextremelyvaluableasrecreationformillionsofpeoplewho
enjoygardening,horticulturalandculinaryusesofplantseveryday.

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