Botanist

Research and Development

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Nature or RecreationScientific or AnalyticSkill Level 5Skill Level 6

Botanists study the biology of plants, fungi and other related organisms, such as lichens and algae. By studying different plants, botanists observe and record the impacts of pollution and human activity, the way plants breed and grow, and the structure and genetic make-up of various species.  FutureGrowthModerate

This knowledge can be used to develop and promote environmental protection programs, improve plant growing techniques, and identify and extract plant products used in medicines, food, fabrics and other products.

Some botanists may also search for and classify new plant species. It is also common for botanists to present their findings in scientific reports, which may be published in journals and/or presented as lectures.

ANZSCO description:
Studies the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and ecology of plants.

Alternative names: Plant Scientist

Specialisations:
Agronomist, Ethnobotanist, Mycologist, Paleobotanist, Palynologist, Plant Morphologist, Plant Pathologist, Plant Physiologist, Plant Taxonomist

Knowledge, skills and attributes

A botanist needs:In field

  • to enjoy and have an aptitude for scientific research
  • patience
  • good communication skills
  • a methodical approach to work
  • a logical and enquiring mind

Duties and Tasks

  • Investigates the effects of environmental factors, such as rainfall, pollution,temperature, sunlight, soil, topography and disease, on plant growth.

  • identify, classify, record and monitor plant species

  • study how plants grow, reproduce and make food

  • undertake surveys and environmental impact assessments

  • manage a botanical collection

  • determine research methods and objectives

  • undertake research using laboratory methods or specialised equipment

  • present research results or publish research papers

  • teach at a university.

Botanists often specialise in the study of one type or group of plants as their career progresses.

Working conditions

Botanists may work primarily indoors, usually in clean well-lit laboratories, while others will spend the bulk of their time conducting fieldwork, either outdoors or in greenhouses.

Those working outdoors will be exposed to different weather conditions depending on the environment they are visiting, which in Australia can vary from lush forests to hot, dry deserts. Some botanists may even focus their studies on marine plants and will spend time collecting samples from underwater. They generally work standard office hours, however, some research may be carried out at night or need regular attention, which could involve working on weekends.

Tools and technologies

Botanists use a variety of equipment depending on whether they are working in the field or in a laboratory. When in the field they may use secateurs, trowels or other hand tools to collect plant samples, which are may be transported in airtight sample bags.

Cameras may also be used to document plant species when it is not practical or desirable to collect a physical sample, such as for particularly rare plants. Many botanists also use a compass and map or Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation.

In the laboratory they use microscopes and various staining techniques to examine samples. Plant presses are also commonly used to preserve samples, and a wide range of reference material can be used to help identify samples.

Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a botanist you generally have to complete a science degree with a major in botany, plant science or a closely related field. Completion of a postgraduate qualification may also improve your employment prospects.

Most of the universities in Australia offer science degrees in relevant fields. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.

Did You Know? 

The Conversation

The one fact about plants that most people probably remember from school is that they use sunlight to make their own food. That process, photosynthesis, means that plants are dependent on sunlight. But as anyone who’s forgotten to put suncream on during their day at the beach knows, the sun can also be damaging. So how do plants absorb the light they need while avoiding damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays? The short answer is by making their own sunscreen. And new research is helping us to understand exactly how that process works...


This protection comes from a suite of natural plant chemicals, mostly phenolics. These phenolic compounds act as natural sunscreens, strongly absorbing UV but not the wavelengths needed for photosynthesis.


Just as with human skin pigments, the amount of these natural sunscreens varies between plants. Some plants, typically those that come from the tropics or from high-altitude mountains, have high levels of protection all the time. Others only produce sunscreens when exposed to higher levels of UVB, equivalent to tanning in humans.

That leads to another question. If plants produce their sunscreens based on their exposure to UV, how do they detect that exposure? And how do plants detect UVB?

Arabidopsis thaliana
UVR8 was first detected in Arabidopsis thaliana Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
.
It has only been in the last decade or so that plant scientists have shown that plants detect UVB very specifically using a protein known as UVR8 (short for UV resistance locus 8). Plants that lack UVR8 cannot induce protective sunscreens and are severely damaged by the UV present in summer sunlight.


Researchers are still actively investigating the fundamental mechanisms by which UVR8 controls plant response to UVB. We’ve known for some time that UVR8 absorbs UVB, causing changes that ultimately allow the UVR8 protein to accumulate in the nuclei of the plant’s cells. This is a necessary step in the chain of responses that allow plants to protect themselves against UVB damage.

New research from the University of Geneva showed that UVB responses depend on interactions between UVR8 and another protein called COP1 (constitutively photomorphogenic 1). This protein interacts with other various molecules (HY5, SPA and RUP) in a plant’s cells to send a signal controlling the build up of sunscreen phenolics in response to UVB.


More sustainable crops

This might seem like an alphabet soup of abbreviations but the signalling system it represents affects us all through its role in the plants produced by farms as crops. We now know that plants use UVB as a signal to change their chemistry in ways that affects much more than just their UV protection.

UV exposure produces biochemical changes that can increase resistance to pest and disease attack. The UVB in sunlight improves the colour, taste and scent of fruits, vegetables and flowers. UVB exposure also increases levels of plant chemicals that are thought to be valuable in the human diet.

The new research adds to our increasing understanding that the UVB in sunlight shouldn’t be seen just in terms of damage. So long as we keep protecting the ozone layer, the effects of UVB will be just one part of plants’ normal responses to their environment. And the more we understand these responses, the more we can use that knowledge to produce more sustainable crops, improving their quality and reducing the use of pesticides.

(Source:
The Conversation)

 

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