What Does a Plant Physiologist Do?

C. Mitchell

A plant physiologist is a scientist who concentrates on studying, understanding and often teaching the integral biological processes of plants. These professionals spend most of their time conducting research on certain elements of plant life. This can include flower pigmentation, tree root structures or the science of species reproduction and mutation, among other things. The work that a plant physiologist can engage in is very broad, and the profession is home to a great many career paths.

A plant physiologist studies the biological processes of plants.
A plant physiologist studies the biological processes of plants.

Plant physiology encompasses more than straight plant biology. Biology and the organic nature of plant life is foundational, but the day-to-day work of an average plant physiologist involves a high degree of both chemistry and math. Physiologists study the internal workings of plants, often on a cellular level. Enzyme patterns, protein synthesis and genetic expressions are all substantial parts of the job.

Plant physiologists may work in biology, soil science, or agriculture.
Plant physiologists may work in biology, soil science, or agriculture.

Many plant physiologists are affiliated with universities. The percentage might vary from country to country, but in most places, the preponderance of jobs in the field is within academia. Scientists in school settings teach students the basics of organic physiology while engaging in independent research.

Most of the time, a plant physiologist has one or two main areas of study. In this way, he or she can be something of an expert in a certain area. Plant physiologist requirements almost always include extensive education, and graduate school programs — particularly doctorate programs — usually are where these scientists hone their expertise and define their professional areas of work.

A minority of plant physiologists work in private industry, often for horticultural associations, botanical gardens or naturopathic medicine manufacturers. Their understanding — not just of how plants grow but also why and how they grow — makes them valuable to many groups. The scientists are often able to help cultivate and optimize new plants as well as isolate certain genes and proteins that can be used beneficially by humans.

Physiologists who specialize in plant extracts and chemical harvesting are sometimes recruited by government agencies to help research biologically based cures for diseases. Plant physiologist jobs of this sort are often set in national labs. Physiologists work with teams of other scientists to find beneficial ways of either extracting plant matter from existing organisms or growing specialized plants that are optimized for certain chemical make-ups or excretions.

Government groups might also hire plant physiologists in advisory capacities. These scientists often act as experts for lawmakers who otherwise would not understand the critical processes behind the manufacturing of drugs and natural supplements. Plant physiologist duties in this setting often include testing safe limits for plant compounds in dietary supplements and helping craft regulation of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies.

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