Although devised by Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus more than 300 years ago, the binomial classification system is still being used to distinguish different kinds of plants and animals. Basically, each life form is given a capitalized generic name and a lower-cased species title. However, with the advance of modern science other biochemical and evolutionary methods of examination are used to further study and distinguish similar plants or animals.
Modern taxonomy first developed as a static science, but as our knowledge of the natural world has changed, so has the science. Today, especially with the development of domesticated varieties and recognition of subspecies, most scientists see plant and animal classification as a changing science. This reality is particularly evident by the number of varieties and subspecies that are now recognized within our biological realm. Just a visit to a flower and gardening nursery should reveal many varieties of colorful and fascinating plants, each one with its own new Latin name. Come back to the same place after a few years and chances are you will see many new varieties that were not available several years earlier.
Physical Characteristics of Animals
Anatomical characteristics of animals (and plants) are still very important in classifying both plants and animals. When scientists discover a new animal or plant, the first thing they look for are similarities with existing life forms. To further this examination, the researcher must establish if there was a common evolutionary link to the two kinds of animals or if the two samples developed along independent parallel lines. If the two animals are believed to have a common ancestor then they are classified close together.
Today scientists have many ways of looking at cellular structure to study the details of cell structure. If scientists are to successfully use these powerful new techniques as an aid in classifying plants and animals, they will have to look at the genetic material of different specimens, in order to obtain the best results. Moreover, the biochemist might examine protein, or DNA sequences, as well as undertaking chromosome painting to obtain more information that can be used in plant or animal taxonomy.
Phytochemistry, which is also known as the chemistry of plants, has been instrumental in expanding our knowledge about the plant kingdom. Not only has this field of science added to our knowledge about medicinal chemical compounds, naturally found in plants, but also it has given us a wider basis on which to differentiate similar species of plants. One of the most important examples concerns recent reclassification among the plant order Lamiales (mints), where certain families (especially Scrophulariales) have been restructured based on biochemical analysis of plant samples.
- AccessExcellence: Classification of Plants
- EncyclopediaBritannicaOnline: Phytochemistry
- EncyclopediaBritannicaOnline: Lamiales
- Palomar Community College: Introduction To Classifying Living Things
- Palomar Community College: Principles of Classification
- Kimball's Biology Pages: Taxonomy, Classifying Life
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