Botany generally refers to the study of plants, but other organisms are often included in the field such as photosynthetic bacteria, fungi, algae, and slime molds. Plants are multicellular organisms with complex, eukaryotic cells that contain cell walls, chloroplasts, and other cell structures that are absent in animal cells. They can be studied at many levels, ranging from the molecules that comprise them to cells and tissues to organs (flowers, leaves, roots, etc.) to organ systems (shoot system and roots systems). Each structure in the plant body is adapted to optimize its function, whether it be photosynthesis, support, nutrient absorption, transportation, or reproduction. Plant physiology explores the chemistry and physics of these functions, including how they respond to the environment, coordinate responses using hormones, gather energy and nutrients, and change throughout their life cycles. Plant ecology examines even larger scales, including plant populations and their roles in communities and ecosystems. Humans rely on plants for food, fiber, and medicines, and to provide clean air, erosion control, and other services. Unfortunately, human activities resulting in habitat loss, climate change, and pollution threaten plant biodiversity, but current and future conservation efforts slow the loss of biodiversity.
Each lab has a section that is intended to be completed prior to the start of the lab. This section includes formative questions, content and skill objectives, and an introduction to the topic. Formative questions are not intended to be graded for “correctness” and often lack any correct way to answer. Instead, these questions are intended to see what you might already know or think about the topic you are going to learn about. Content objectives list what you are expected to learn during the lab, while skill objectives list what you should be able to do after the lab. The introduction frames the lab content in context of larger topics within the field of science and highlights specific concepts that will be covered within the lab. Later labs focused on learning different organismal groups also contain a section called selection pressures and drivers that explains what conditions this group of organisms evolved in response to.
Inanimate Life is an open textbook covering a very traditional biological topic, botany, in a non-traditional way. Rather than a phylogenetic approach, going group by group, the book considers what defines organisms and examines four general areas of their biology: structure (their composition and how it comes to be), reproduction (including sex), energy and material needs, and their interactions with conditions and with other organisms. Although much of the text is devoted to vascular plants, the book comparatively considers ‘EBA = everything but animals’ (hence the title): plants, photosynthetic organisms that are not plants (‘algae’, as well as some bacteria and archaebacteria), fungi, and ‘fungal-like’ organisms. The book includes brief ‘fact sheets’ of over fifty organisms/groups that biologists should be aware of, ranging from the very familiar (corn, yeast) to the unfamiliar (bracket fungi, late-blight of potato). These groups reflect the diversity of inanimate life.