Studies & Degrees in Botany
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Botany Study Programs
One of the first sciences to be developed is the study of plants which is more commonly called Botany in modern times. In fact, around 300 BC, a Greek botanist named Theophrastus wrote two large treatises about plants. Not only that, but the Romans, the Chinese and Indians also had some form of documented studies of plants during ancient times. These accounts from ancient past were more or less a listing of plants that were used as medicines, plants that are edible and plants that are poisonous.
Presently, the scope of Botany is a very broad one; it studies all species of algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, ferns, herbs, shrubs, trees and just about anything that are not classified as belonging to the animal kingdom. The study of plants usually looks at the structure, metabolism, growth, reproduction, development, diseases, chemical properties and their relationships with other living organisms.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to study plants.
First of all, humans get sustenance from plants. In fact, most staple foods eaten by humans are all plants. Truly, by studying plants as a source of food, botanists can identify which plants pack the most nutrients, which plants can be easily grown and which plants or its parts are not to be consumed. Aside from food, humans also use plants for its medicinal value. How many people get relief from aspirin?
Probably millions. Thanks to this field of study, humans were able to extract salicylic acid from willow trees which is the pain killing ingredient of aspirin. Usually, most active ingredients of medicines are extracted from plants. Another notable contribution of Botany to mankind, but has only been felt in the last few years, is the recognition of the role of plants in the overall equilibrium of the planet’s ecology. When trees were indiscriminately being cut down by illegal loggers, the results were unheard of catastrophes. Those people living near the foot of the mountains were just shocked by flash floods, landslides and mudslides. It was found out later on that the trees’ root systems were the one actually holding the soil and water content in the soil together and so when they were cut down by profiteering loggers, naturally, the soil had no choice but to be eroded downward where incidentally people are living. Apart from extreme erosion, the problem of air pollution has become one of Earth’s cancers and it seems the field of Botany is the only one offering solution.
Botany, being a broad branch of science has many sub-disciplines under them. Those who are fascinated with plants can specialize in agronomy, the application of plant science to crop production, bryology, the study of mosses, liverworts and hornworts, ethnobotany, which studies the relationship of humans and plants, forestry, the study of forest management, lichenology, the study of lichens, paleonbotany, the study of fossil plants, horticulture, the study of cultivated plants, palynology, the study of pollen and spores, phytochemistry, the study of chemical processes in plants, phytopathology, the study of plant diseases, plant ecology, study of role of plants in the environment, plant genetics, study of plant genes, plant morphology, study of structure and life cycles of plants, plant physiology, life functions of plants, plant systematic, classification and naming of plants.
Job positions for Botany:
On a typical science class when getting to the topic of sickness, typically, kids would ask their teachers when humans get sick, they go to a doctor and animals go to a veterinarian but where do plants go when they get sick? Is there such a thing as a plant hospital? Do plants get sick at all? Perhaps, those kids were asking the wrong person as probably their teachers would dismiss those questions as kids’ babble. Perhaps, if those kids have asked a Plant Pathologist, they would have slept out of boredom right on their seats from hearing countless scientific names of fungi, viruses, oomycetes, bacteria, protozoa, phytoplasmas, nematodes and other pathogenic agents.
Plant Pathologists are botanist but they specialize in diseases that affect plant health caused by pathogens and their agents. Studying plant diseases is important because humans depend heavily on plants for food, medicine and raw materials. Like humans, plants give telltale signs that they are sick. Plant infestation comes in many forms and one of the jobs of Plant Pathologists is to lookout for these symptoms because some pathogens can be treated if detected and identified at the first signs of infestation.
Like for example, the pathogen that causes the so-called late blight, a water mold that feast on potato plants, are hard to detect because they usually attack the potato tubers which are buried underground. If the pathogens would become visible on its leaves, it means that the microorganisms have already done its damage. For the plant that was Infected, no amount of treatment can save it but for the rest of the crops not yet infected, the pathologist in charge would know how to quarantine and minimize damage, if and only if, detection was found before a full-blown epidemic erupted. Like in this case where the infesting agent is an already identified pathogen, more or less, the pathologist treating the blight already knows what to do depending on how far out the plague has spread. However, if let’s say, the microorganism causing the blight turned out to be a new strain and did not respond to known effective treatments, the Pathologist would study the pathogen inside the laboratory to take a closer look at the pathogen. The Pathologist would naturally identify what kind of microorganism it is. This kind of study could take years as so many tests are needed to fully comprehend the nature of a newly discovered pathogen. To give out a complete study, Pathologists would need to culture the pathogens so they would not run out of test subjects. To know how to treat and fight these microorganisms, a pathologist would need to study how these microorganisms propagate, what environment do they thrive in and their thresholds, how long is their life span, what inherent quality of the plants have that make them susceptible to these organisms, how they react to changes in the environment and most of all, the damage they do to their hosts. When they have finished what is there to learn about their subject, they then document these findings and publish them.
In almost any scientific community, publication of one’s findings is essential to let their peers know what has been done, however, for Plant Pathologist and other disciplines studying pathogens it is doubly essential to let other pathologists know of their findings so that in cases of an epidemic outbreak, other scientists would have immediate sources of reference.
Commonly, there is a notion that Botanists only study plants that have stems, roots, flowers and leaves but it would also fall on the domain of Botanists to study lichens, molds, protozoa, fungi, algae and everything else not classified under the kingdom Animalia. Botanists, in general, study plants and everything else that has a direct contact with plants like climate, soil conditions, pathogenic agents and their relative environment. Specifically, they study the structure of plants from the root system to the stem up to the canopy of the leaves. To classify a newly discovered plant, Botanists need to completely map out the plant from the apex of the leaves down to its roots. Let’s say, if the plant is a shrub, has a fleshy fruit, has pinnate leaves and everything else resemble a common tomato except that the fruit has a somewhat elongated shape, most likely, the Botanist studying this newly discovered plant would classify the plant as belonging to the family Solanaceae but would assign it a different scientific name.
Nothing thrills a Botanist like discovering an unclassified plant. Apart from assigning a scientific name to the new plant, it would give the Botanist to exercise his scientific nature and on the side achieve fame and glory. Discovering a new plant would mean years of research so that the plant would be fully understood and assess if the plant will have an impact to man and the environment and maybe that’s why these scientists continue to embark journeys on the Amazon or other dense forests just to get the credit of naming them.
There are many kinds of specialization in studying plants. Truly, there’s not one Botanist who can boast that he mapped out a single plant completely from the plant’s anatomy down to its cell membranes and diseases and other factors that may affect them. Probably, a botanist, depending on his field, would limit his study to his area of expertise. Some Botanists are interested only on plants used as commercial plants either for food or for industrial use, some are interested only on pathogens attaching themselves to plants, some are only interested in environmental factors that affect plants while some are interested only on the genetic mapping of plants but whatever interest they have, a working knowledge of plants can only be beneficial to man.
Botanists are among those scientists that have contributed so much to the good of mankind. Although, there has been botanists studying plants for hundreds of years, all the species of plants would perhaps never be completely studied as some plants would just get extinct without being probed and for sure there would be new plants that would evolve for study, as like humans and animals, plants can adapt to environmental changes too.
Botanist for some time became a not so popular course as computer science and robotics took the world by storm and are currently the best paying jobs but until recently, a few years back, interests in botany and plant science sparked anew as biotechnology is churning out useful innovations in the field of nutritional supplements and medicines.