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PLANT IT: (from left) Jerry Chmielewski, professor biology, and David Krayesky, assistant professor of biology, collaborated on “General Botany Laboratory Manual.” SRU students use the lab manual for “General Botany” lab.

Biology professors pen lab textbook

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - With "slime molds," "lichens" and "dinoflagellates" among the topics and abundant microscope work required, no wonder some Slippery Rock University students approach SRU's "General Botany" lab with both excitement and some apprehension.

A newly published botany lab manual is giving students helpful clarification on these and other topics that will enhance their learning.

Jerry Chmielewski and David Krayesky, SRU professor and assistant professor of biology respectively, explain basic botanical principles in their "General Botany Laboratory Manual." The publication represents more than six years of research and includes several hundred original photographs.

The book sells for $50. Proceeds are managed by the SRU Foundation Inc. and support biology scholarships.

The biology professors provide guidelines, tips and troubleshooting for microscope work. They explain plant classification and botanical terminology. They present laboratory exercises to fortify students' understanding of organisms, and they provide many examples of interrelationships between and among structures.

"The content of the laboratory is rich in both content and terminology - you must come to lab prepared," the professors wrote in their introduction. "You must come to lab knowing what the various terms you are about to deal with mean. There is no such thing as finishing early, that simply isn't possible."

Chmielewski said the laboratory manual gives students a "step-by-step," comprehensive blueprint for General Botany lab. Both professors teach the course and lab, which gives students the opportunity to handle live and preserved material.

Krayesky said the book presents a new approach to plant classification.

"The classification scheme that we used is a compilation and synthesis of several schemes or parts thereof that have been proposed for land plants, algae, and fungi - there really was no single classification scheme in place that reflected our current understanding of these diverse groups," Krayesky said.

The professors present 20 laboratory chapters. Titles include "Microscopy," Slime Molds," "Stramenopiles," "Red Algae," and "Taxonomy, What's in a Name?"

Chmielewski and Krayesky include a quote by Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), a Nobel Prize winner in physics who contributed to the understanding of quantum theory which states "Young man, if I could remember the names of these particles I would have been a botanist."

Chmielewski took many of the photographs included in the body of the manual. Krayesky captured the cover shot of a cypress swamp in Louisiana when he was examining spotted gar abundance in selected areas of the state.

The images included help students because they provide a visual image in most cases of the ideal specimen. This may contrast what they see on their prepared slide because variability does exist in preparations. While the primary audience is undergraduate biology majors, Krayesky said "the manual could serve as an introductory resource tool for others."

Chmielewski said the book makes many connections between plant life and the environment. The authors included a photograph of a sea turtle because green algae grows on its shell. A headstone covered in lichen demonstrates that man-made "habitats" can be colonized too. A third picture shows fireworks because club moss spores were historically included in flash powder for photography and in the making of fireworks - today it is used theatrically as a safe flash in magic acts. "The take home message is - botany is everywhere," he said.

If they don't already know it, SRU students will discover that slime molds are fungal-like organisms that are more closely related to animals than to plants; lichens are dual organisms consisting of a fungal component and an algal component; and dinoflagellates are generally unicellular organisms, some of which produce lethal compounds, some are more animal-like than plant-like, and others are bioluminescent .

Chmielewski, who joined SRU in 1990 serves as biology department chairman and teaches botany and biostatistics. His research includes the study of seed ecology, resource allocation patterns, floristics and plant classification. Krayesky, who joined SRU in 2009, researches the diversity and evolutionary relationships of marine red algae. Since coming to SRU he also conducts floristic studies on bryophytes and seed plants. Krayesky typically teaches botany, plant anatomy and plant systematics to biology majors and this semester is teaching practical botany to non-biology majors.