AIIMS Botany Notes: Major Disciplines and Research in Botany
Agronomists use biotechnology to extend and expedite the development of desired characteristics listed in the Plant Breeding section. Biotechnology is is often a lab activity requiring field testing of the new crop varieties that are developed.
In addition to increasing crop yields, reducing crop vulnerability to environmental stresses, improving health and taste of foods, and reducing the need for field applied chemicals, agronomic biotechnology is increasingly being applied for novel uses other than food. For example, oilseed is at present used mainly for margarine and other food oils, but it can be modified to produce fatty acids for detergents, substitute fuels and petrochemicals.
Agronomists study sustainable ways to make soils more productive. They classify soils and reproduce them to determine whether they contain substances vital to plant growth. Such nutritional substances include compounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If a certain soil is deficient in these substances, fertilizers may provide them. Agronomists investigate the movement of nutrients through the soil, and the amount of nutrients absorbed by a plant's roots. Agronomists also examine the development of the roots and their relation to the soil.
In addition, agronomists develop methods to preserve the soil and to decrease the effects of erosion by wind and water. For example, a technique called contour plowing may be used to prevent soil erosion and conserve rainfall. Researchers in agronomy also seek ways to use the soil more effectively in solving other problems. Such problems include the disposal of human and animal wastes; water pollution; and the build-up in the soil of chemicals called pesticides, which are used to kill insects and other pests. No-tilling crops is a technique now used to help prevent erosion. Planting of soil binding grasses along contours can be tried in steep slopes. For better effect, contour drains of depths up to 1 metre may help retain the soil and prevent permanent wash off:
Agroecology is the management of agricultural systems with a strong emphasis on ecological and environmental perspectives. This area is closely associated with work in the areas of Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Agriculture, and the development of alternative cropping systems.
Bryology is the branch of botany concerned with the scientific study of bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts).
Bryophytes were first studied in detail in the 18th century. The German botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius (1687 − 1747) was a professor at Oxford and in 1717 produced the work “Reproduction of the ferns and mosses.” The beginning of bryology really belongs to the work of Johannes Hedwig, who clarified the reproductive system of mosses (1792, Fundamentum historiae naturalist muscorum) and arranged a taxonomy.
Areas of research include bryophyte taxonomy, bryophytes as bioindicators, DNA sequencing, and the interdependency of bryophytes and other plant and animal species. Among other things, scientists have learned that certain species of mosses are carnivorous.
Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and people: From “ethno” -study of people and “botany” -study of plants. Ethnobotany is considered a branch of ethnobiology. Ethnobotany studies the complex relationships between (uses of) plants and cultures. The focus of ethnobotany is on how plants have been or are used, managed and perceived in human societies and includes plants used in food, medicine, divination, cosmetics, dyeing, textiles, constuction, tools, currency, clothing, literature, rituals, and social life.
Beginning in the 20th century, the field of ethnobotany experienced a shift from the raw compilation of data to a greater methodological and conceptual reorientation. This is also the beginning of academic ethnobotany. The founding father of this discpline is Richard Evans Schultes.
Today the field of ethnobotany requires a variety of skills: Botanical training for the identification and preservation of plant specimens; anthropological training to understand the cultural concepts around the perception of plants; linguistic training, at least enough to transcribe local terms and understand native morphology, syntax, and semantics.
Native healers are often reluctant to accurately share their knowledge to outsiders. Schultes actually apprenticed himself to an Amazonian shaman, which involves a long term commitment and genuine relationship. In Wind in the Blood: Mayan Healing & Chinese Medicine by Garcia et. Al. The visiting acupuncturists were able to access levels of Mayan medicine that anthropologists could not because they had something to share in exchange. Cherokee medicine priest David Winston describes how his uncle would invent nonsense to satisfy visiting anthropologists.
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