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Vol. 14 No. 2 - April 2008

The Vista of Palynological Science - An Assay

By Dr. P K K Nair*

The science of Palynology covers the study of pollen grains and spores, which are the reproductive/propagative units in the plant kingdom. Coming to pollen grains alone (of flowering plants) it may be understood that the pollen unit is a partner in plant of reproductive biology and subsequent production of fruits and seeds. The pollen unit is a microscopic single cell system with the special feature that the genomic material (nucleus and cytoplasm) is enveloped by a wall, the exine which is both protective and diagnostic of the mother plant it belongs to. Thus, it has an identity of its own with built in characteristics for use in plant taxonomy and evolution on the one hand and for use in a variety of areas of scientific interest with social and economic interventions.

In the scheme of pollen biology, the haploid pollen develops in a diploid environment (tapetum) and on maturity it is released from the anther for being carried by various agencies (air, insects, water etc.), the direct consequence of which is pollination of the female counterpart for the production of fruits and seeds. For the fertilization process, only a minutesimal quantum of the pollen produced by any one plant species is actually what is required and the excess pollen are taken to a spectrum of situations in each of which they provide the material for new research enquiries and applications thereon. Thus, the airborne pollen becomes a factor in human allergy, the insect form the food for the bee larvae and yet others become deposited in sedimentary areas to become fossils. The pollen spore (including fungal spore) distribution is finding its presence in a spectrum of situations in each of which it becomes an index for bio-prospecting.

In the above background it indicates that the science of Palynology could be categorized into the following broader areas of scientific research and also education namely

1. Morphology and evolutionary biology; 2. Plant reproductive biology and pollination ecology; 3. Physiology and biotechnology; 4. Aerobiology and allergy; 5. Bee botany and nutrition; 6. Energy resources (fossil fuels and geo-prospecting); 7.Technology and product development; 8. Palynological education; 9. Socio-economic studies

We may elaborate the socio-economic agenda as covering agriculture, forestry, industry, human health and medicine (forensic science, respiratory allergy, honey/pollen food), cosmoceuticals/nutraceuticals, phytomedicals (pharmacognosy, genetic resources screening) pollination technology, oil exploration and coal stratigraphy, among the many other areas of interest. In terms of biotechnology the importance of haploid plant production and the knowledge on male specific genes for plant improvement including disease control is quite significant. The air borne pollen aerosols arc not only of interest in respiratory allergy therapy, but also important in space research programmes. With regard to products the most significant is honeys and honey products in which the pollen is the only material with an identity, helping to notify ecosystem specificity and standardization along new lines. Further the pollen-spore antigen is an important product in the world pharmaceutical market.

The assay implies that Palynological Science is all about a hidden agenda of biological processes in the plant body tuned to conform with the environmental conditions and ecosystem design in time and space, with the reproductive machinery as the focus of genetic variations. The architecture of the spore-pollen unit alone reflects the genetic lineage, facilitating the reconstruction of plant evolution (biodiversity in the broader perspective) through the Ages, at the same time as providing new opportunities in pollen management, to human advantages in addressing an array of biological and sustainable development isues. Thus the expanding, Vista of Palynological Science offers new hopes and challenges in research and development pursuits.

*Environmental Resources Research Center, Peroorkada, Thiruvananthapuram 695 005, India

E-mail: <[email protected]>

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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