A program that focuses on the application of molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics to the study of biomolecular structures, functions, and processes specific to plants and plant substances. Includes instruction in the biochemistry of plant cells, nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions, molecular cytostructures, photosynthesis, plant molecular genetics, and the molecular biology of plant diseases.

Molecular botanists work with subcellular structures within plants.

Plants have a number of unique molecular processes and components that differentiate them from other life forms. The work of molecular botanists addresses these particulars by focusing on molecules, which are tiny structures made up of atoms joined by chemical bonds. These molecules group together to form units called macromolecules, which produce effects that contribute to cell function. The primary molecules present in plants - which include glucose, water, and carbon dioxide - differ from those present in humans and animals, and the making sense of their activity requires knowledge of plant cell cycles and much more.

Molecular botany is a field that emerged relatively recently; plant biologists wanted to do interdisciplinary work that combined elements of cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics. As molecular sciences become more prevalent in research and industry, the field is expected to expand even further.

Work in molecular botany may include...

  • Isolating and manipulating specific traits on the molecular level
  • Using specialized equipment and techniques
  • Analyzing and interpreting biological data
  • Developing tests and optimizing testing processes
  • Conducting independent and collaborative research

Of all plant scientists, molecular botanists are the least likely to work with full plant specimens. Their work occurs mostly in labs, though they make occasional forays to greenhouses, crops, fields, and other plant growth facilities. Many of these labs are affiliated with universities, museums, agricultural companies, or government agencies. The specifics of the work vary enormously based on the area of industry, but much of it has to do with maximizing production and increasing resistance to diseases that affect plants. Molecular botanists may also teach, lecture, or publish, and occasionally contribute their expertise to agricultural policy or marketing materials.

Training to become a molecular botanist is a fairly involved process. Most students begin their studies in Bachelor's degree programs, where they may major in molecular biology or botany. This track involves extensive coursework in biochemistry, plant cell biology, and plant genetics. Students who obtain Bachelor's degrees can often find work in their field, though many elect to pursue graduate study. Master's degrees can provide additional opportunities for field work and independent study, and PhD programs offer the rare chance to specialize and complete advanced research in the discipline.

For those who want to understand plants right down to the last atom, plant molecular biology may be an ideal career. Could it be right for you?

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Cellular biology and histology

Careers in cell biology and histology focus on understanding the physical makeup and functions of cells and tissue.

Healthy cells and tissues are structured in ways that correspond to their intended functions. When things start to go awry due to disease or injury, there are observable effects on these and other microanatomical parts. Cell biology and histology are closely related, as both focus on organic microscopic elements; an understanding of the structure and purpose of both is applicable to many disciplines.

There are all kinds of cells - nerve cells, plant cells, stem cells, and more - and cellular biologists tend to focus on a particular type present in a particular area. Each type of cell has its own system of tiny parts called organelles, each of which has a specific job, and some cells have distinct properties. Most cell biologists can identify visually distinct cell types either by context or characteristics. This is true of tissues as well, and it's important to know their unique properties.

Work in cellular biology or histology may include...

  • Extracting and preparing biological cell or tissue samples
  • Observing cell or tissue samples using a microscope
  • Testing cells or tissues to determine their health
  • Identifying microscopic disease markers in cells, tissues, and organs
  • Recording, analyzing, and presenting data

There are many career options that involve cell biology and histology, most of them in clinical or research settings. Some work as specialists and technicians in hospitals and outpatient testing facilities, where they prepare tissue samples for biopsies or inspect those samples for danger signs. For cell biologists, the work can get a little more theoretical, and many work in research labs. Many teach, lecture, or publish work on the discipline, and some contribute to development for cellular technologies. Some find employment with government agencies, and others work in parts of industry, biotechnology, or scientific marketing.

Learning about cell biology and histology can be an involved process. It often begins with undergraduate study; aspiring technicians can complete a two-year Associate's of Science before pursuing a certification program, while students in Bachelor's degree programs can declare a focus in cell biology and take supplementary coursework. A background in anatomy, microbiology, and biochemistry can help students to develop good lab skills they can carry with them into careers. Graduates of four-year programs can find jobs as lab or research assistants, but many decide to pursue additional study. Master's and Doctoral programs in cell biology or histology allow students to narrow their focus and conduct independent research. Some students pursue medical or nursing school, where they focus on diagnosing and treating conditions that impact cell and tissue health.

Each cell and similar structure is a contained system of its own that reflects its environment, and understanding it can reveal all kinds of interesting things. If you want to put your eye to the microscope and see for yourself, you might find a fulfilling career in cell biology or histology.

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