Science

Phyto- and Myco-medicine

PhytoMyco PART 1

PhytoMyco PART 2

PhytoMyco PART 3

PhytoMyco PART 4

Many modern medicines have their genesis in plant- and fungus-based therapies used hundreds, even thousands, of years ago.

In 3000-1500 BC the Egyptians and Sumerians used willow [Salix] as a pain reliever for non-specific aches and pains. Aspirin, first manufactured in 1897, uses the ‘willow chemical’ that the Ancients could never have known about.

An 11th century Persian philosopher promoted yew [Taxus] as a cardiac remedy. This was the first known use of a calcium channel blocker [CCB] drug to lower elevated blood pressure [hypertension]. Felodipine, a prescription medicine that uses the ‘yew chemical’, achieves this result in the modern day.

This slideshow looks at these things, and a lot more, in detail.

Photosynthesis: Unlocking it – a trek starting in the 17th Century

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants and certain other organisms [in particular, algae] transform light energy into chemical energy. During photosynthesis the light energy is captured and used to convert water [H2O], carbon dioxide [CO2], and minerals into oxygen [O2] and energy-rich organic compounds. And see green box below

Such a statement could never have been made in the mid-17th century, when the trek illustrated in this slide show began.

The trek takes us from the early and, by today’s standards, very simple experiments right through to those that capitalise on more than 370 years of increasingly sophisticated technology and laboratory techniques, accumulated knowledge, often-clever intuition and the drive to ‘understand’.

Further, it takes a brief peek at some developmental work underway in artificial photosynthesis and the associated possibilities for industries to offset atmospheric carbon.

*The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second.

Pharmaceutical Botany
Pharmaceutical Botany – Part 1
Pharmaceutical Botany – Part 2

In these documents, Reg Harris has selected plants in or near Wellington Botanic Garden and highlighted human health conditions for which they offer therapeutic remedies. 

He has deliberately gone for ‘significant’ conditions that are common universally.

In line with his preference to show ‘how things work’, he has focused on situations where there is proven science regarding mechanisms of action.

He has restricted his choice to where these mechanisms can be expressed clearly by pictures or diagrams, either pulled from the internet or drawn by him.


Forest and Field
Forest and Field – Part 1
Forest and Field – Part 2
Forest and Field – Part 3
Forest and Field – Part 4
Forest and Field – Part 5

This five-part series kicks off with a look at the intriguing world of the ‘non-botanicals’, namely lichens and fungi. It highlights form, function and some interesting applications, and reminds us of the things that differentiate these organisms from plants.

The main plant groups [aka ‘clades’] are presented, with a special look at the oft-debated evolutionary positioning of monocots in relation to primitive dicots and modern eudicots.

Pollination and fertilisation mechanisms of gymnosperms and angiosperms are delved into. Some detailed [and beautiful] 19th century botanical drawings are used to help explain processes.

Mechanisms employed by plants for accessing the all-important nitrogen for growth are explained. The somewhat scary strategies employed by carnivorous plants to get hold of nitrogen sources are included. Viewers with delicate dispositions are urged to avoid looking at the images while alone.

The series takes a quick look at the evolution of the ‘seed habit’ and flowers. And it winds up with ways in which plants do harm to each other, and how ‘allelopathy’ is capitalised on in agricultural management systems.

Scientific names of plants in Wellington Botanic Gardens

Scientific names

Scientific names of plants, like those of all biological organisms, are binomial, comprising both generic and specific components. Their roots are usually Latin or Greek, but other roots such as German, Arabic and Sanskrit make their appearances.

In New Zealand Aotearoa the Māori name for a plant is in some cases used, in its original or derived form, as part of the scientific name. For example: Podocarpus tōtara.

Use of the names of people or inanimate objects is not uncommon. Sometimes these are ‘Latinised’, possibly to appear more scientific than they really are!

The slides presented here zero in on a number of plants in Wellington Botanic Garden that are familiar to many of us [or possibly not] and offer discussion about their scientific names.

The yellow-light system (see example below) on the right-hand side of each slide proposes a ranking of the level of helpfulness for the scientific name in focus.

Research into plant diseases

Plant diseases

In the mid-nineteenth century The Irish Potato Famine, known also as The Great Hunger, started when a fungus-like pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, spread rapidly throughout Ireland.

It lasted seven years.

Because the tenant farmers of Ireland – then ruled as a colony of Great Britain – relied heavily on the potato as a source of food, the infestation had a catastrophic impact on Ireland and its population.

Before it ended, the Famine had resulted in the death of about one million Irish from starvation and related causes, with at least another million forced to leave their homeland as refugees.

The Famine was a wake-up call. Plant disease research, generally, underwent a huge increase.

In this slide display you will meet some of the researchers and get an idea of the brilliant work they did.

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