cod. 1008465

Academic year 2024/25
1° year of course - Second semester
Renato BRUNI
Academic discipline
Botanica sistematica (BIO/02)
Discipline biologiche
Type of training activity
48 hours
of face-to-face activities
6 credits
hub: -
course unit

Integrated course unit module: Biology

Learning objectives

The course aims at teaching the basic functional aspects of living organisms, with an emphasis on the systems of production and accumulation of primary and secondary metabolites of food interest, both for nutritional and gustative purposes. From this standpoint, the course aims to provide the key to understand the ecophysiological rationale behind the role of biodiversity and agrobiodiversity.


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Course unit content

The module aims to put the student in the position of knowing how to interpret the role of plant biology and its links with the traditional uses of plants in the context of gastronomy, combining scientific and humanistic parts, of reading the various contexts of the food world. The individual topics will be introduced by applied cases concerning the interactions between humans and plants that characterize ethnobotany.
Some of the questions that will be answered are the following:
-Does man manipulate the biology of plants, generating biodiversity? [The “invention” of corn and the transformation of watermelon]
-How does man intervene and what links are there between biology and agri-food tradition? [Production of tea and rhubarb]
-What connections are created between human history, geography, art and biology? [Claviceps purpurea poisoning]
-How do plants defend themselves and can we imitate them? [Secondary metabolites and integrated control strategies]
-Why is it said that biological systems do not provide "definitive solutions"? [The Swiss-cheese model and its consequences in the evolution of plants and their food use]
- What does "holobiont" mean? [Biology of relationships between plants and microorganisms]
-What makes a fruit crunchy? [Biology of apple ripening and texture]
-What provides scent to a fruit and why does it always change? [the scent of tomato and vanilla]
-Does climate change plant foods? [Climate change and wine, maple syrup production]
-Have ethnobotanical traditions influenced the characteristics of cultivated plants and find use in today's creative cuisine? [Foraging, disappearance of bitterness, traditional vegetable dishes and their organic traits]
-Why do we use spices with meats? [Thyme, cinnamon, chili pepper, clove and nutmeg: fragrant defenses]
-Why are digestive liqueurs almost all plant-based? [Aloe, gentian and strychnine]
The program in detail:
- Basic plant biology. Peculiar characteristics of lipids, carbohydrates and proteins within vegetables.
Cytology: the plant eukaryotic cell, structure, organization, physiological and ecological role of its components. Cells as production systems of compounds of food importance: biological aspects (primary and secondary metabolism). Differences between animal and plant cells. The elective structures of the plant cell (vacuole, plastids, wall) and their biological and nutritional function in the production of materials with nutritional and taste-related roles.
- From cellular organization to ecological needs and from metabolism to the physiology of taste: relationship between metabolites and membranes, reasons for the presence of secondary metabolites active on the human senses, taste receptors and coevolution.
-Histology: meristematic tissues, adult or definitive tissues. Secretion and accumulation structures of plant secondary metabolites. Histological anatomy of roots, stems (in primary and secondary structure) and leaves, with functional examples for obtaining plant foods. Organography of leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and their role in the accumulation of primary and secondary metabolites. Photosynthesis and energy storage. Botanical importance of plant tissues and organs in the recognition of plants and in the production and accumulation of food substances.
- Plant secondary metabolism: alkaloids, terpenes, carotenoids, glycosides, polyphenols, organic acids, tannins. Their environmental and ecological role in the life of plants, their effects on the gustatory and organoleptic properties of foods, their link with toxicity and with the development of particular recipes. Coevolution as a biological dynamic underlying the definition of taste and smell. Physiology of taste and smell and relationship with the plant kingdom.

Full programme

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Solomon, Martin, Berg – Elementi di Biologia VII Edizione, EdiSES

Solomon, Martin, Berg – Struttura e Processi Vitali delle Piante VII Edizione, EdiSES

Since there is no available textbook calibrated for the educational needs of Gastronomic Sciences, the suggested textbook will be integrated with blended teaching material provided through the Elly platform. However, it should be extremely clear that consulting a textbook during the preparation of an exam is essential to verify the correctness of the notes and take advantage of an already structured information system, to be integrated with the notions, examples and reasoning exposed in the classroom.

Teaching methods

Teaching will be conducted by favoring active learning methods alternated with lectures dedicated to case studies, aimed at establishing a link between the everyday reality of the students (as consumers and future pharmacists) and the and conventional topics typical of plant biology. Supporting slides will be uploaded on a weekly basis on the Elly platform as well as other in-depth multimedia materials (both in Italian and English) aimed at providing the aforementioned case studies and further elements useful for developing a critical interpretation in the student on the use of medicinal and health food plants. Supporting materials will be made available through the Elly online platform. Slides and other supporting materials here uploaded are considered an integral part of the teaching material and therefore of the exam program.

Assessment methods and criteria

The exam includes a written test with a grading scale of 0-30 and praise, divided inf two parts: one with closed answers and one with open answers.

First part
The part with closed answers provides 8 multiple-answer questions to which a maximum of 2 points are assigned for each correct answer. A score of at least 8 points must be obtained in this section to pass the exam.

Second part
The part with open answers includes 4 questions to which maximum 4 points each are assigned according to the formal correctness of the answer and the logical and grammatical quality of the text. Tasks with answers left blank will not be corrected and will translate automatically in an insufficient score.
A score of at least 8 points must be obtained in this section to pass the exam. A score between 31 and 32 gives praise.

The test will take place during the scheduled exam sessions, will last 2 hours. Through the Elly platform, at the end of the lesson period, students will be given a facsimile of examination.

The student will have to demonstrate that he has understood, and be able to use in practical examples, the fundamental concepts of each topic.

Other information

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