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Biology II

Making life possible: Plants as factories

Photosynthesis that produced oxygen makes life on Earth possible. We’re most familiar with green land plants as being responsible for oxygen production, but have you ever thought about the tiny plants of the ocean? What about aquatic plants? This course will first explore the evolution and diversity of plants. Topics will include:

  • how grasses and trees evolved
  • plant phylogeny
  • how plants moved from water to land
  • how chloroplasts came into existence
  • how flowering plants came to dominate our landscape

We will also look at the roles of plants in our environment today. We will examine plants as

  • sinks for carbon dioxide
  • generators for soil production and conservation
  • homes for microbes and animals
  • the source of food for all animals including humans

We will also consider plant biochemistry and biotechnology, and how plants are engineered to produce food, medicine, fiber and fuels for humans.

The class will include field trips and visits to:

  • The UT Botanical Gardens
  • UT Greenhouses
  • The UTK Herbarium

Course Requirements

Grades will be assigned using these criteria:

  1. Completion of assignments
  2. Participation in class and filed trips
  3. Team projects and oral presentations

Credit Hours: 3

Course Instructors

Tessa Burch-Smith, Course Director

Dr. Tessa Burch-Smith is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Burch-Smith completed her Ph.D. thesis Yale University, studying the plant innate immune response to viruses.  She then conducted post-doctoral research with at the University of California, Berkeley, studying the regulation of intercellular trafficking mediated by pores in the plant cell wall called plasmodesmata. Her current research uses a variety of molecular and cell biological approaches including advanced light and electron microscopy and plant viruses to investigate plasmodesmata in a variety of plant species and under diverse growth conditions. Her lab also investigates chloroplast gene expression and how signals from chloroplasts can control expression of nuclear genes related to plasmodesmata. She is the author of numerous scientific articles and has received research funding from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She is also a Senior Editor at the scientific journal Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions and is a scientific reviewer for numerous research journals.

Brandon Reagan, Teaching Assistant

My name is Brandon Reagan and I am a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology Department. I study how plant cells communicate with each other and how plant viruses disrupt this communication. I use a variety of different molecular biology and microscopy techniques to look at changes in the plant cell behavior during infection. In my free time I enjoy going for long runs with my dog and I play saxophone and clarinet with two local symphonies. I am looking forward to working with you this summer!