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Biological classification.

R.H. Whittaker (1969) proposed a Five Kingdom Classification. The kingdoms defined by him were named Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia. The main criteria for classification used by him include cell structure, thallus organisation, mode of nutrition, reproduction and phylogenetic relationships.
Let us look at this five kingdom classification to understand the issues and considerations that influenced the classification system. Earlier classification systems included bacteria, blue green algae, fungi, mosses, ferns, gymnosperms and the angiosperms under ‘Plants’. The character that unified this whole kingdom was that all the organisms included had a cell wall in their cells. This placed together groups which widely differed in other characterstics. It brought together the prokaryotic bacteria and the blue green algae with other groups which were eukaryotic. It also grouped together the unicellular organisms and the multicellular ones, say, for example, Chlamydomonas and Spirogyra were placed together under algae.
The classification did not differentiate between the heterotrophic group – fungi, and the autotrophic green plants, though they also showed a characteristic difference in their walls composition – the fungi had chitin in their walls while the green plants had a cellulosic cell wall. When such characterstics were considered, the fungi were placed in a separate kingdom – Kingdom Fungi. All prokaryotic organisms were grouped together under Kingdom Monera and the unicellular eukaryotic organisms were placed in Kingdom Protista. Kingdom Protista has brought together Chlamydomonas, Chlorella (earlier placed in Algae within Plants and both having cell walls) with Paramoecium and Amoeba (which were earlier placed in the animal kingdom) which lack it. It has put together organisms which, in earlier classifications, were placed in different kingdoms. This happened because the criteria for classification changed. This kind of changes will take place in future too depending on the improvement in our understanding of characteristics and evolutionary relationships. Over time, an attempt has been made to evolve a classification system which reflects not only the morphological, physiological and reproductive similarities, but is also phylogenetic, i.e., is based on evolutionary relationships.

KINGDOM MONERA
Bacteria are the sole members of the Kingdom Monera. They are the most abundant micro-organisms. Bacteria occur almost everywhere. Hundreds of bacteria are present in a handful of soil. They also live in extreme habitats such as hot springs, deserts, snow and deep oceans where very few other life forms can survive. Many of them live in or on other organisms as parasites.
Bacteria are grouped under four categories based on their shape: the spherical Coccus (pl.: cocci), the rod-shaped Bacillus (pl.: bacilli), the comma-shaped Vibrium (pl.: vibrio) and the spiral Spirillum (pl.: spirilla) (Figure 2.1).
Though the bacterial structure is very simple, they are very complex in behaviour. Compared to many other organisms, bacteria as a group show the most extensive metabolic diversity. Some of the bacteria are autotrophic, i.e., they synthesise their own food from inorganic substrates. They may be photosynthetic autotrophic or chemosynthetic autotrophic. The vast majority of bacteria are heterotrophs, i.e., they do not synthesise their own food but depend on other organisms or on dead organic matter for food.

Archaebacteria
These bacteria are special since they live in some of the most harsh habitats such as extreme salty areas (halophiles), hot springs (thermoacidophiles) and marshy areas (methanogens). Archaebacteria differ from other bacteria in having a different cell wall structure and this feature is responsible for their survival in extreme conditions. Methanogens are present in the guts of several ruminant animals such as cows and buffaloes and they are responsible for the production of methane (biogas) from the dung of these animals.

Eubacteria
There are thousands of different eubacteria or ‘true bacteria’. They are characterised by the presence of a rigid cell wall, and if motile, a flagellum. The cyanobacteria (also referred to as blue-green algae) have chlorophyll a similar to green plants and are photosynthetic autotrophs (Figure 2.2)


The cyanobacteria are unicellular, colonial or filamentous, marine or terrestrial algae. The colonies are generally surrounded by gelatinous sheath. They often form blooms in polluted water bodies. Some of these organisms can fix atmospheric nitrogen in specialised cells called heterocysts, e.g., Nostoc and Anabaena. Chemosynthetic autotrophic bacteria oxidise various inorganic substances such as nitrates, nitrites and ammonia and use the released energy for their ATP production. They play a great role in recycling nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and sulphur. Heterotrophic bacteria are the most abundant in nature. The majority are important decomposers. Many of them have a significant impact on human affairs.
They are helpful in making curd from milk, production of antibiotics, fixing nitrogen in legume roots, etc. Some are pathogens causing damage to human beings, crops, farm animals and pets. Cholera, typhoid, tetanus, citrus canker are well known diseases caused by different bacteria. Bacteria reproduce mainly by fission (Figure 2.3).
Sometimes, under unfavourable conditions, they produce spores. They also reproduce by a sort of sexual reproduction by adopting a primitive type of DNA transfer from one bacterium to the other.

The Mycoplasmas are organisms that completely lack a cell wall. They are the smallest living cells known and can survive without oxygen. Many mycoplasma are pathogenic in animals and plants.

 KINGDOM PROTISTA
All single-celled eukaryotes are placed under Protista, but the boundaries of this kingdom are not well defined. What may be ‘a photosynthetic protistan’ to one biologist may be ‘a plant’ to another. In this book we include Chrysophytes, Dianoflagellates, Euglenoids, Slime moulds and Protozoans under Protista. Members of Protista are primarily aquatic. This kingdom forms a link with the others dealing with plants, animals and fungi. Being eukaryotes, the protistan cell body contains a well defined nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. Some have flagella or cilia. Protists reproduce asexually and sexually by a process involving cell fusion and zygote formation.

Chrysophytes
This group includes diatoms and golden algae (desmids). They are found in fresh water as well as in marine environments. They are microscopic and float passively in water currents (plankton). Most of them are photosynthetic. In diatoms the cell walls form two thin overlapping shells, which fit together as in a soap box. The walls are embedded with silica and thus the walls are indestructible. Thus, diatoms have left behind large amount of cell wall deposits in their habitat; this accumulation over billions of years is referred to as ‘diatomaceous earth’. Being gritty this soil is used in polishing, filtration of oils and syrups. Diatoms are the chief ‘producers’ in the oceans.

Dianoflagellates
These organisms are mostly marine and photosynthetic. They appear yellow, green, brown, blue or red depending on the main pigments present in their cells. The cell wall has stiff cellulose plates on the outer surface. Most of them have two flagella; one lies longitudinally and the other transversely in a furrow between the wall plates. Very often, red dianoflagellates (Example: Gonyaulax) undergo such rapid multiplication that they make the sea appear red (red tides). Toxins released by such large numbers may even kill other marine animals such as fishes.

Euglenoids
Majority of them are fresh water organisms found in stagnant water. Instead of a cell wall, they have a protein rich layer called pellicle which makes their body flexible. They have two flagella, a short and a long one. Though they are photosynthetic in the presence of sunlight, when deprived of sunlight they behave like heterotrophs by predating on other smaller organisms. Interestingly, the pigments of euglenoids are identical to those present in higher plants. Example: Euglena (Figure 2.4a).

Slime Moulds
Slime moulds are saprophytic protists. The body moves along decaying twigs and leaves engulfing organic material. Under suitable conditions, they form an aggregation called plasmodium which may grow and spread over several feet. During unfavourable conditions, the plasmodium differentiates and forms fruiting bodies bearing spores at their tips. The spores possess true walls. They are extremely resistant and survive for many years, even under adverse conditions. The spores are dispersed by air currents.

Protozoans
All protozoans are heterotrophs and live as predators or parasites. They are believed to be primitive relatives of animals.
There are four major groups of protozoans. Amoeboid protozoans: These organisms live in fresh water, sea water or moist soil. They move and capture their prey by putting out pseudopodia (false feet) as in Amoeba. Marine forms have silica shells on their surface. Some of them such as Entamoeba are parasites. Flagellated protozoans: The members of this group are either free-living or parasitic.
They have flagella. The parasitic forms cause diaseases such as sleeping sickness. Example: Trypanosoma. Ciliated protozoans:
These are aquatic, actively moving organisms because of the presence of thousands of cilia. They have a cavity (gullet) that opens to the outside of the cell surface.
The coordinated movement of rows of cilia causes the water laden with food to be steered into the gullet. Example: Paramoecium (Figure 2.4b). Sporozoans: This includes diverse organisms that have an infectious spore-like stage in their life cycle. The most notorious is Plasmodium (malarial parasite) which causes malaria which has a staggering effect on human population.

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