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Plant science

Professor Barbara Mable explores the opportunities within plant science
BARBARA MABLE: I’m Professor Barbara Mable I’m in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, here at the University of Glasgow. I work on both plants and animals, but I’m generally interested in evolutionary genetics. And I have projects that are mostly involved with understanding how organisms adapt to environmental change. The evolutionary biology encompasses a lot of different things. So we’re primarily interested in understanding historical relationships among organisms, and understanding how organisms change in response to their environment. And so, that can include both abiotic conditions, so changes in temperature and climate, both locally and globally, and interactions with other organisms, so changes in the biotic context that they’re in. So plants are probably under-appreciated in a lot of programmes.
So a lot of zoology students coming in, and think they don’t have to know anything about plants, because animals is what they’re interested in. But, of course, ecosystems are composed of interactions between microbes, plants, and animals. And so, you need to understand the integration of them if you’re going to understand ecological and evolutionary processes. So they’re also used a lot for biotechnology, because you can grow them quickly. You can manipulate them a lot more than animals. So they have a really central role. So a lot of plant research is focused on molecular components. But we’re the only group that works on kind of whole-organism ecological interactions, but that’s changing.
So a lot of the plant scientists who are interested in biochemistry are now more interested in how processes change in response to the environment. And so, that’s where ecology and evolution is really starting to make a difference, overall. There’s a lot of potential careers for someone who knows about plants. So there’s careers in biotechnology, because a lot of the work in biotechnology is focused on plants. There would be careers in agriculture– crop breeding, or improving our crops for sustainable agriculture. There’s careers in environmental monitoring, so ecological consultants have to do a lot of surveys. If you’re doing an environmental survey, you need to know about the plant community, as well as the animals in an environment.
There’s jobs in academia, and doing research. And so there’s quite a wide opportunity.

In the next couple of steps we’ll look at some of the diverse areas within life science. We start with ‘plant science’ – a sometimes overlooked but hugely important area. In each subject ‘step’ we give you links to help you explore these subjects further so why not take some time to look through them.

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