Biology studies living organisms, plant biology deals with the organisms that make up the energy engine of the planet: plants and algae. Plants produce the oxygen we breathe and the chemical energy we take in as food or burn as fuel. Plants produce substances useful for human health used for pharmaceutical and/or cosmetic purposes. Without plants life on our planet would not be what we know. Plants represent 83% of living biomass against 1.5% of animals and determine the bio-geochemical and ecological evolution of the planet by feeding, in addition to animals, fungi and bacteria.
The secret to improving the health of the planet lies in the relationship between plants and man.
Historically, the study of plants has led to epochal scientific discoveries: cells were observed for the first time in plants, viruses were purified in plants, Mendel’s studies on peas revealed the laws of heredity.
Understanding how plant organisms work is essential for understanding and controlling our relationship with the biosphere and constitutes our only opportunity to condition and correct the development of the planet through the management of agricultural crops, which cover 24% of the land surface and ensure 52% of primary productivity. Together with algae, which accounts for the remaining 48% of the planet’s net productivity, they annually remove 120 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Why study plant organisms in particular? To learn more about the natural world, to make the most of plants’ ability to provide us with food, medicine and energy, to protect biodiversity. The photosynthetic process connects the planet to the energy flow of the universe, transforming the light energy of the sun into sugars, consuming carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. The oxygen produced by plants allowed all other higher life forms to appear. The efficiency of photosynthesis has improved over the course of evolution and can be modified, like that of any other living process, through genetics and synthetic biology: a very important goal to feed a continuously growing humanity.
On a cellular level, plants and animals are strikingly similar. Unlike animal organisms, the presence of a cell wall, often lignified, which delimits each cell gives it unique peculiarities and, from this rigid structure, derive many of the differences with the biology of animals.
The presence of the wall prevents cell mobility and makes plants sessile organisms, anchored to the ground, but not static. A plant, forced to occupy the same place throughout its life, responds to the surrounding environment by modifying its growth and development by adopting extraordinary adaptive strategies. Twin plants can have very different appearances depending on the conditions in which they are grown, just think of Bonsai plants which are trees adapted to grow in small pots. (Bonsai: planted in flat pot).
From plants, information to the most complex problems of the present and the future.
The study of these adaptive mechanisms is essential to be able to make plants even more resilient to climate change. Plant biology, as well as all of biology, is today in an era in which striking results have been achieved and are being achieved. Communities of researchers with laboratories equipped with innovative tools are able to answer very complex biological questions. We are getting closer to understanding how to use photosynthesis for innovative application purposes in the field, for example, of renewable energies.
These results are possible thanks to the convergence and integration of various biological disciplines such as plant physiology and genetics, molecular biology, plant pathology and agricultural chemistry which allow problems to be tackled at multiple levels and with different approaches. The knowledge gained can be transferred to various fields of application ranging from the improvement of plants in responding to environmental stress, to the possibility of increasing the production of molecules useful for pharmaceutical purposes, the food and cosmetic industries.
The society of plant biologists faces and solves complex problems of plant organisms with the task of spreading the knowledge of this discipline achieved by applying the rigorous scientific method so that they become the heritage of everyone’s cultural baggage, thus preserving the new generations from anti-scientific attitudes still well rooted in the community. The balance of the planet is in the expert hands of plant biologists as is the possibility of feeding its inhabitants and safeguarding their health also to provide a welcoming and stable habitat for future generations as well.