Palynology involves the study of pollen and encompasses the structural and applied aspects of pollen. Pollen grains are the male reproductive structures produced by the flowering plants (angiosperms) and gymnosperms (naked seeded plants). Palynology is a distinct branch of biology and is unique in many ways. According to the modern and wider definition of palynology, it also includes the study of spores produced by lower plants such as Algae, Fungi, Bryophytes and Pteridophytes.
According to geologists, the microfossils comprising pollen, spores, dermal appendages, cuticles, vascular elements, diatoms, desmids of plant origin and foraminifera, ostracods, microforaminifera are also studied within palynology. Scolecodonts of animal origin and certain microorganisms such as hystricospherids, dinoflagellates and acritarchs of doubtful origin are also included in palynological studies. Another unique feature of palynology is the fact that pollen and spores of both living plants and fossil plants are studied in detail.
Palynology, the science of pollen, gained a real impetus after the discovery of the microscope. This is logical as pollen grains are extremely tiny particles comparable to dust particles, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. The discovery of the microscope by Robert Hooke in 1665 was a landmark in the development of science, particularly palynology. Subsequent improvement in microscopy accelerated the study of pollen grains, especially the finer structure of the pollen wall and its myriad ornamentation patterns.
Pollen is ubiquitous in nature unlike other plant parts. It occurs buried deep in rocks, ground and surface water, and in air, both indoor and outdoors including the upper atmosphere. Besides, pollen finds its way through nasal and oral cavities to the digestive tract of humans and animals causing different degrees of discomfort. Pollen has an extremely long geological history, as it is well preserved in rocks as old as 400 m.y.
Pollen biology encompasses pollen production, its transfer to the stigma or pollination, and details of pollen-pistil interaction leading to fertilization and seed set. Any break in these sequential events affects seed and fruit set. Pollen biology studies are a prerequisite for any programme aimed at optimization and improvement of the yield of crop plants. Pollination ecology is also a part of pollen biology, which involves the study of various aspects dealing with efficient pollination. Pollen biotechnology is one of the techniques employed to study pollen biology for crop production and improvement. Pollen biotechnology is one of the most challenging areas of plant reproductive biology and plays an important role in crop improvement programmes.
The chapters included in the book are primarily devoted to two important aspects of palynology. It is well known that in order to exploit the applications of palynology in various fields, it is a prerequisite to have a thorough knowledge of different aspects of basic palynology. It is for this reason, that the first ten chapters comprise information on basic aspects of palynology such as pollen formation and pollen morphology of modern as well as fossil pollen and spores, current techninques and a general account of pollen physiology. These chapters are preceded by a chapter on a historical account of pollen studies, which to our mind is very appropriate and essential. Students of palynology should be aware of the origin and development of palynology up to the present. Many earlier scientists contributed significantly to palynology under adverse conditions, for example, limitations and availability of relatively simple microscopes. However, this historical account serves as a source of inspiration to learn more about pollen and exploit their potential applications.
The second and major part of this book comprises chapters on application of pollen studies in various fields such as agriculture, horticulture, plant breeding, enhancing honey production (melissopalynology), as an important tool in forensic science, reconstruction of past vegetation and environmental pollution and its effect on health particularly with reference to pollen allergy. Applications of airborne pollen and mould spores have been thoroughly explained in seven different chapters covering various aspects of aerobiology and allergy. This has been done on account of the significant role of aerobiological studies in allergy and immunology. Minor applications of pollen studies also include a brief account of copropalynology, which concerns pollen analysis of coprolites and other faeces of animals that throw light on past vegetation, feeding habits of animals of the present and past. A detailed account of most common aeroallergens and their source plants such as Ambrosia (Ragweed), grasses, and Parthenium has been given. A major chapter on 'Pollen Calendars: Global Scenario' includes information useful to aerobiologists and allergists from different parts of the world. This is followed by a comprehensive chapter on exploration of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
Palynological information incorporated in the book is up-to-date to the extent possible and all the available sources, such as books; monographs, research articles have been referred for the compilation of information. An attempt has been made to include appropriate illustrations along with examples of common pollen sources.
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