Every student of biology comes across taxonomy during his course of study as one of the important topics.
The earth’s biodiversity is huge; there are hundreds of types of animals and plants. So it isn’t easy to study them all in a simple way. So taxonomy was made to group living things based on a set of characters.
Most of the students dislike taxonomy and feel bored, not knowing why they have to study. The terms are difficult and hence have mug up to pass their exams.
But yet taxonomy is mentioned in almost every chapter during the classification of any plant or animal.
Taxonomy definition: “Taxonomy is a branch of science which tries to scientifically classify all the existing living organisms based on a certain set of characters for ease of identification and study.“
Linnaeus described taxonomy and hence he is called the Father of taxonomy.
You might have noticed that many plant species’ scientific names ending with Linn. The term “Linn” indicates the scientist Linnaeus.
Taxonomy is the scientific way of classification of all the living creatures on the earth. Even human is called as Homosapien as per taxonomy.
Establishing taxonomy for the entire biological species is very challenging, but these scientists completed it very successfully during their time. Any new plants or animals discovered later were given names as per the taxonomy rules established by Linnaeus.
This taxonomy is divided into plant taxonomy, animal or zoological taxonomy, microbial taxonomy, etc.
What is the importance of taxonomy in Biology?
1. Taxonomy aims to classify living creatures: There are millions of organisms on the Earth of different physical, physiological, regional differences. Taxonomy helps to classify these millions of organisms scientifically into categories like family, genus, species, etc., for ease of study and understanding.
2. Taxonomy helps to ascertain the number of living species on the earth. We have discovered till now some thousands of plants and animal species and are recorded as per taxonomy.
3. Taxonomy helps get an idea of what type of characters are present in the plant or animal possesses even before seeing or studying them in detail.
Ex: a) In plants: When one hears a plant to be of leguminous family, the characters we can ascertain are that they have nitrogen synthesizing bacteria in their root nodules. They have a seed that can be broken into an exact two half etc.
b) In animals: If a living creature is mentioned under mollusk’s, it means the animals have some hard shell as a protective factor (like a snail). If an animal is called a mammal, it means the creature gives birth to well-formed babies and also rears them with milk during growth.
4. Taxonomy gives an idea of the level of physical development:
It tells us how far an animal has physical and mental development and its position in organisms’ evolution tree.
Ex: When you hear the word bacteria, you get an idea of single-celled organisms and fungi as a multi-celled organism, yet both or microbes. Physically & evolutionary wise, fungi are advanced than bacteria.
5. Gives an idea of local fauna: Not all plants and animal species are found in all earth regions. For example, kangaroo is limited to Australia, likewise kiwi to New-Zealand, etc. Even plants like Campanula Americana (Americana= America) are found in North America, while the neem plant as Azadirachta Indica (Indica= India) due to its prominent presence. Hence taxonomy helps to identify or ascertain the types of plants and animals found in a particular region. This helps new scientists go to the place of existence of the species to collect them if they need to experiment on them.
How is taxonomy done: Taxonomy is done based on a large view to a smaller view like
1. Area (no nucleus, no organelles in the cell),
2. Bacteria have no well-formed nucleus but have organelles
3. Eukarya: which means well-formed nucleus and cell organelles.
b. Kingdom gives ideas as 1. Animal 2. plant. 3. Fungi 4. Protista.
c. Phylum: For zoology, it gives an idea if it is an insect type or worm type, etc.
e. Order: If you consider mammal, it says whether it is a herbivore or carnivore, etc.
f. Family: In botany, plants are categorized or leguminous, Solanaceae, Euphorbiaceae, etc. The plants in one family have few sets of common physical characters.
g. Genus: This keeps the animals more specific, ex: Frog as “Rana.”
h. Species: This gives even specificity and in the above example of frog, it says the place of existence or physical character like
Rana Italica, Italian frog, Rana japonica-Japanese frog.
See for more Rana genus.
So taxonomy for Frog is as
Kingdom: Animalia- This means it is an “animal type” and not a plant.
Phylum: Chordata- Means has “Spinal cord
Subphylum: Vertebrata- Has vertebral column dorsally.
Class: Amphibia- Can live both in water and on land (Amphi- two; Bia- living)
Order: Anura – No tail (An= No; Ura = Tail)
Suborder: Neobatrachia- New type of frogs (Neo= new)
Species: Tigrina (etc. based on the region where the frog is found)
In Biology importance of Taxonomy is immense for study, research and also seems to be quite interesting.
But there are many changes, deviations, and modifications of the taxonomy over time due to variations among living organisms. So you find not all animals can have all the sets of taxonomy and some can have extra sets like suborder, subgenera, subspecies, etc.
Any new organism found is assigned to an existing species, and if not, a new species is designated to it.
Importance in medicine
In medicine, taxonomy helps in three ways like
- To identify the disease.
- To select the right medicine to treat the disease.
- For producing desired medicine
Taxonomy differentiates bacteria, fungus, virus, protozoa like microbes causing the disease.
For example, pneumonia is caused by different types of bacteria like
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Haemophilus influenzae
So, when a patient’s body fluid sample is tested for bacteria, the causative agent is known and the disease can be identified.
Similarly, plant drug vincristine, an anticancer drug, can be extracted from the specific plant species Catharanthus roseus.
Vaccines are produced by using one specific strain of disease-causing agent.
For example, the TB vaccine is made from a live, weakened strain of mycobacterium bovis, while the disease-causing strain in humans in mycobacterium tuberculosis. In agriculture
Taxonomical classification helps to identify high yield varieties, diseases causing pests, useful earthworms for vermicompost production, type of biofertilizer, etc.
For example, biofertilizer bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen into soil include the genus Azotobacter. Of them, the specifies used to include.
Azotobacter vinelandii, Azotobacter chroococcum, etc.
Similarly, the routine earthworms we find are slow in composting. Hence, a specific strain of worm i.e. Eisenia fetida is preferred for composting.
Microbiology deals with many microorganisms like sterilization, disinfection, immunology, etc.
Here the taxonomy helps to assign specific bacteria for a particular purpose.
For example, spores of Bacillus stearothermophilus are used as a validation tool for steam sterilization using an autoclave at a temperature of 121°C.
While the spores of Bacillus subtillus are used to validate dry heat sterilization using a hot air oven. So, the species are specific for the particular methods of sterilization.
Taxonomy benefit for Ecology
As we know ecology management is aimed at improving the environment, enhancing natural resources and protecting living beings.
By taxonomy we can know which set of animals are distributed in a particular environment.
We can also know which species of animal is a threat to other organisms living in the same environment.
So you notice governments issuing permission certain species of animals without licence to minimize the invasive species.
For example Tegus lizard with taxonomical name Salvator merianae is native to argentina. But when introduced a pets, they began to affect native animal populations in georgia and florida. Hence, the department of natural resources has asked to report them by taking pictures so that they could be caught and removed from local ecology.
This helps us make specific changes such that the other organism thrive well and bring in the balance of ecology.