Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Biological Diversity – The Basis of our Life

Meaning of biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variety and variability of living organisms and how these change from one location to another and over time. Biodiversity includes diversity within species ( genetic diversity) , between species ( species diversity ) and between ecosystems ( ecosystem diversity ) . The science of biodiversity orginates largely from Ecology ( the study of relationship between organisms and their environment ) and Evolution ( the study of the origin of diversity). Biodiversity has evolved over the last 3.8 billion years or so, of the planets approximately 5 billion year history.

Distribution of biodiversity

Biodiversity is essentially everywhere on earth’s surface. It is present everywhere covering all genes, animals and plant species, ecosystems and landscapes. It includes forests, freshwater, marine and temperate environments, the soil, crop plants, domestic animals, wild species and microorganisms.

Importance of Biodiversity 

People rely on biodiversity in their daily lives, often without realizing it. Biodiversity contributes to many aspects of people’s livelihoods and well-being. It ensures the survival of human species by providing food, fuel, shelter, medicines and other resources to mankind (biological resources ). Indirectly biodiversity serves the humans , by providing the basic life support systems such as clean air, water and fertile soil (ecosystem services). Over the ages, human race used plants and animals as icons to establish cultural identity ( Social benefits).

Organization of biodiversity

Biodiversity covers the diversity of life on all hierarchical levels, the diversity within species ( genetic level ), between species ( Species level ) and the variability of habitats ( ecosystem level ). Its complexity is measured in terms of variations at gnetic, species and ecosystem levels. It also includes diversity in abundance such as ( the number of genes, individuals, population or habitats in a particular location), distribution ( across location and through time) and in behaviour including interaction among the components of biodiversity.

Number of species

According to some estimates , there could be as many as 30-50 million species on Earth 90% of them occurring in tropical ecosystems. About 1.7 million of Earth’s species have been identified and designated with a scientific name. About 6% of the identified species live in polar regions, 59% in the temperate zones and the remaining 35% in the tropics.

India’s Biodiversity

India has one of the worlds richest biotic environments. Its 46,000 plant species and 81,000 animal species represent 8 percent of the planet’s known biological diversity.
India is one of the 12 mega biodiversity countries of the world. The country is divided into 10 bio-geographical regions: Trans-Himalayan, Indian desert, semi-Arid, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic plains, North-East India, Islands and Coasts and this diversity creates rich biodiversity in the country. Currently available data on global biological diversity place India in the tenth position in the world and fourth in Asia in plant diversity. It stands seventh in the world for the number of species contributed to agriculture and animal husbandry.

Extinction of biodiversity

Some studies show that about one of eight known plant species is threatened with extinction. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet. Some people say upto 1/5 of all living species could disappear within 30 years.

Threats of Biodiversity

Currently, population growth and patterns of consumption are the most important drivers affecting biodiversity. Human-caused changes include Habitat loss, over exploitation of plant and animal species, air and water pollution, introduction of non-native species, large-scale agriculture and forestry and global climate change.

Biodiversity crisis

Ø economic value of biodiversity lost or threatened !
Ø ‘ ecological Services ‘ lost or threatened !
Ø Ecosystems are more vulnerable to further degradation

Conservation of biodiversity in India

In-situ Conservation
Approximately 4.2% of the total geographical area of the country has been earmarked for extensive in-siter conservation of habitats and ecosystems through protected area network of 85 National Parks and 448 Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Ex-situ Conservation
There are about 70 Botanic Gardens including 33 University Botanic Gardens. Also there are 275 centres in the form of zoos, deer parks, safari, parks, aquaria etc.

Global initiatives on Biodiversity conservation

The World conservation union, World Resources Institute and United Nations Environment Programme are three important agencies, whose mandates center on the conservation of the world’s Biodiversity. There have developed the ‘Global Biodiversity Strategy’ an international programme to help protect Biodiversity.
The broad objectives are to:
  • Preserve Biodiversity
  • Maintain Earth’s ecological processes and life-support systems
  • Ensure that natural resources will be sustainably used by humans.

How Biodiversity reflects the health of the Biosphere?

The greater the variety of species , the healthier the biosphere is
  • more species = more links in food chains = more stable
  • more plants = better chances for survival through adaptation
  • a variety of ecosystems = more habitat for different species.
“ Biodiversity keeps the planet habitable and ecosystems fuctional “- Peter Raven, A Biologist

Recent Trends in Biotechnology

Humans have used biotechnology for thousands of years. Plants,animals and even microorganisms like bacteria are used to produce some benefits to mankind.The advance of biotechnology have been relatively rapid over the last 20 years. Biotechnology is the basis for many different kinds of research in the fields of environment,food science,agriculture and medicine.New Biotechnological methods can improve and increase the efficiency of traditional technologies.

Traditional Biotechnology
Traditional biotechnology refers to ancient ways of using living organisms to make new products or modify existing ones.It includes such techniques as selective breeding,hybridization and fermentation.The most practical use is the cultivations of plants to produce food suitable to humans.The other primitive examples of biotechnology include breeding of dogs and using yeast to make bread and wine.
Modern Biotechnology
Modern Biotechnology involves the intentional manipulation of genes, cells and living tissue to produce new tissue or to generate changes in the genetic make-up of an organism.Some examples include genetic engineering,tissue culture and mutagenesis.Modern biotechnology began with the discovery of DNA in 1953.
Biotechnology Revolution
The “Dawn of Biotechnology” is considered from the first production of insulin around 1970.The first cloned sheep Dolly was made from an adult cell in 1998.In 1999 antibody analysis was made available to investigators to identify criminals.The year 2000 was one of the most defining years in biotechnology as well as human history.A breakthrough in 2001 was the completion of human genome map, a genetic map showing where the genes are located in chromosome.Biotechnology is the science for this century.
Sub Groups of Biotechnology
Modern Biotechnology is generally divided into four sub fields
  • Red biotechnology
  • White biotechnology
  • Green biotechnology
  • Blue biotechnology

    Red Biotechnology

It refers to medical applications of biotechnology such as production of antibiotics,vaccines and pharmaceuticals that are based on the re-combinant DNA technology.Red biotechnology also helps in reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization,DNA profiling,forensics and in organ transplantations.
White Biotechnology
It is the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes including manufacturing, bio-energy and bio-materials.It uses living cells - from yeast,moulds,bacteria and plants - and enzymes to synthesize products that are easily degradable, require less energy and create less waste during their production.
Green Biotechnology
It also involves the manipulation of plants and animals to produce species that are more environment friendly and productive.Green Biotechnology, also known as agricultural biotechnology, deals with applications related to agriculture.An example is the designing of transgenic plants that are modified for improved flavour, for increased resistance to pests and diseases and for enhanced growth in adverse weather conditions.Other examples include production of Bio-fuels such as ethanol or methane from crops such as corn or even from marine algae grown at land-based production facilities.
Blue technology 
The term has been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology.An example is land-based marine aquaculture, which is based on methods for large-scale hatching and growth of marine fishes in a completely self-contained re-circulating environment.
Multicolored biotechnology is often inter disciplinary and so many applications may be classified into more than one colour category.For example production of Biodisel fuel from agricultural or waste materials could be considered to be both white - green or white - blue, biotechnology.
Bioinformatics and Genomics
A fundamental tool for all biotech is the use of bio-informatics, an inter disciplinary field which addresses biological problems using computational techniques,often referred to as computational biology.It plays a key role in various areas such as functional genomics,structural genomics and proteomics. It is an important resource for the discovery and understanding the function of genes leading to new applications.
The Future of Biotech
Scientists have come to believe that biotechnology is a boon for human society and it has the great potential to solve many of the issues.Biotechnology has to progress to become user friendly.Plant breeders see a big future in the technology.With the emergence of genetic engineering,one can breed new varieties of crops,fruits,vegetables.The human Genome project refers to the international effort to discover all the human genes and make them accessible for further biological study.The ultimate goal is to improve human health.Scientists are now using nanotechnology to manipulate life at the atomic level.