Okay, I’m biased: I’m a whole plant physiologist, meaning that I like to study entire plants in their environment, not just their cells or DNA in a lab. I got hooked on plants as an undergraduate in marine biology when I took plant physiology for “fun” (translated: I couldn’t find another biology elective to fill the time slot). Discovering why vines curl around fenceposts (thigmotropism) or how plants sense gravity (statoliths) or why bilaterally symmetrical flowers evolved (to accomodate pollinators) was fascinating, and I finally succumbed to the green side when I entered my PhD program.
The book I used as a student was Salisbury & Ross’s Plant Physiology. There were other texts out there, but this was my bible and I used newer editions when I began to teach Plant Physiology. Recently (as some of you know) I’ve begun to write a garden book on how plants work. Plant physiology, of course, is the underlying science, and I needed a new text for fact checking.
Salisbury and Ross, sadly, has not been updated since 1991, so I went with Taiz and Zeiger (which has also been around a long time). It was a shock for me to discover that plant physiology has somehow morphed into plant molecular biology. The books is full of gene acronyms and regulatory pathways…but very little of what fascinated me as a student.
Science has been on the reductionist pathway for a long time, and there’s no denying that understanding how genes are regulated is important. But except for the fields of human and veterinary medicine, we’re losing our understanding of how organisms work. Faculty experts who specialized in studying algae or mosses or grasses or trees for the sole purpose of increasing our understanding of these species have been replaced with those whose research programs can generate big dollars for cash-strapped universities. The void left by academia’s abandonment of practical plant science is quickly filled with pseudoscience and mysticism, particularly in alternative agriculture.
All I can say is that if I had been confronted with the 2010 Taiz and Zeiger text as an undergraduate I would have a PhD in marine biology instead.