What is Biology?


The study of living organisms, divided into many specialized fields that cover their morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution; The plants and animals of a particular area, and the physiology, behavior, and other qualities of a particular organism or class of organisms.

Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, identification and taxonomy. Modern biology is a vast and eclectic field, composed of many branches and sub disciplines. However, despite the broad scope of biology, there are certain general and unifying concepts within it that govern all study and research, consolidating it into single, coherent field. In general, biology recognizes the cell as the basic unit of life, genes as the basic unit of heredity, and evolution as the engine that propels the synthesis and creation of new species. It is also understood today that all the organisms survive by consuming and transforming energy and by regulating their internal environment to maintain a stable and vital condition known as homeostasis.

History of Biology:

The term biology is derived from the Greek word βίος, bios, “life” and the suffix -λογία, -logia, “study of.” The Latin-language form of the term first appeared in 1736 when Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) used biologi in his Bibliotheca botanica. It was used again in 1766 in a work entitled Philosophiae Naturalis sive physicae: tomus III, Continens Geologian, biologian, phytologian generalis, by Michael Christoph Hanov, a disciple of Christian Wolff. The first German use, Biologie, was in a 1771 translation of Linnaeus’ work. In 1797, Theodor Georg August Roose used the term in the preface of a book, Grundzüge der Lehre van der Lebenskraft. Karl Friedrich Burdach used the term in 1800 in a more restricted sense of the study of human beings from a morphological, physiological and psychological perspective (Propädeutik zum Studien der GE Samm ten Heilkunst). The term came into its modern usage with the six-volume treatise Biologie, oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur (1802–22) by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus, who announced; The objects of our research will be the different forms and manifestations of life, the conditions and laws under which these phenomena occur, and the causes through which they have been effected. The science that concerns itself with these objects we will indicate by the name biology [Biologie] or the doctrine of life [Lebenslehre].

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Biology is the study of living things. It encompasses the cellular basis of living things, the energy metabolism that underlies the activities of life, and the genetic basis for inheritance in organisms. Biology also includes the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms and the diversity of life on Earth. It considers the biology of microorganisms, plants, and animals, for example, and it brings together the structural and functional relationships that underlie their day-to-day activities. Biology draws on the sciences of chemistry and physics for its foundations and applies the laws of these disciplines to living things.

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Biology living world scale
Biology – Living World Scale

Many sub disciplines and special areas of biology exist, which can be conveniently divided into practical and theoretical categories. Types of practical biology include plant breeding, wildlife management, medical science, and crop production. Theoretical biology encompasses such disciplines as physiology (the study of the function of living things), biochemistry (the study of the chemistry of organisms), taxonomy (classification), ecology (the study of populations and their interactions with each other and their environments), and microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms).

Their fascination with biology has a long history. Even early humans had to study the animals that they hunted and know where to find the plants that they gathered for food. The invention of agriculture was the first great advance of human civilization. Medicine has been important to us from earliest history as well. The earliest known medical texts are from China (2500 B.C.), Mesopotamia (2112 B.C.), and Egypt (1800 B.C.).

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In classical times, Aristotle is often considered to be the first to practice scientific zoology. He is known to have performed extensive studies of marine life and plants. His student, Theophrastus, wrote one of the West’s earliest known botanical texts in 300 B.C. on the structure, life cycle and uses of plants. The Roman physician Galen used his experience in patching up gladiators for the arena to write texts on surgical procedures in A.D. 158.

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci risked censure by participating in human dissection and making detailed anatomical drawings that are still considered among the most beautiful ever made. Invention of the printing press and the ability to reproduce woodcut illustrations meant that information was much easier to record and disseminate. One of the first illustrated biology books is a botanical text written by German botanist Leonhard Fuchs in 1542. Binomial classification was inaugurated by Carolus Linnaeus in 1735, using Latin names to group species according to their characteristics.

Microscopes opened up new worlds for scientists. In 1665, Robert Hooke, used a simple compound microscope to examine a thin sliver of cork. He observed that the plant tissue consisted of rectangular units that reminded him of the tiny rooms used by monks. He called these units “cells.” In 1676, Anton von Leeuwenhoek published the first drawings of living single celled organisms. Theodore Schwann added the information that animal tissue is also composed of cells in 1839.

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During the Victorian era, and throughout the 19th century, “Natural Science” became something of a mania. Thousands of new species were discovered and described by intrepid adventurers and by backyard botanists and entomologists alike. In 1812, Georges Cuvier described fossils and hypothesized that Earth had undergone “successive bouts of Creation and destruction” over long periods of time. On Nov. 24, 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the text that forever changed the world by showing that all living things are interrelated and that species were not separately created but arise from ancestral forms that are changed and shaped by adaptation to their environment.

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While much of the world’s attention was captured by biology questions at the macroscopic organism level, a quiet monk was investigating how living things pass traits from one generation to the next. Gregor Mendel is now known as the father of genetics although is papers on inheritance, published in 1866, went largely unnoticed at the time. His work was rediscovered in 1900 and further understanding of inheritance rapidly followed.

The 20th and 21st centuries may be known to future generations as the beginning of the “Biological Revolution.” Beginning with Watson and Crick explaining the structure and function of DNA in 1953, all fields of biology have expanded exponentially and touch every aspect of our lives. Medicine will be changed by development of therapies tailored to a patient’s genetic blueprint or by combining biology and technology with brain-controlled prosthetics. Economies hinge on the proper management of ecological resources, balancing human needs with conservation. We may discover ways to save our oceans while using them to produce enough food to feed the nations. We may “grow” batteries from bacteria or light buildings with bioluminescent fungi. The possibilities are endless; biology is just coming into its own.

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Characteristics of Living Things:

Defining a living thing is a difficult proposition, as is defining “life”—that property possessed by living things. However, a living thing possesses certain properties that help define what life is.

Biology Human Lifecycle
Biology Human Life-cycle

Complex organization: Living things have a level of complexity and organization not found in lifeless objects. At its most fundamental level, a living thing is composed of one or more cells. These units, generally too small to be seen with the naked eye, are organized into tissues. A tissue is a series of cells that accomplish a shared function. Tissues, in turn, form organs, such as the stomach and kidney. A number of organs working together compose an organ system. An organism is a complex series of various organ systems.

Metabolism: Living things exhibit a rapid turnover of chemical materials, which is referred to as metabolism. Metabolism involves exchanges of chemical matter with the external environment and extensive transformations of organic matter within the cells of a living organism. Metabolism generally involves the release or use of chemical energy. Nonliving things do not display metabolism.

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Responsiveness: All living things are able to respond to stimuli in the external environment. For example, living things respond to changes in light, heat, sound, and chemical and mechanical contact. To detect stimuli, organisms have means for receiving information, such as eyes, ears, and taste buds.

To respond effectively to changes in the environment, an organism must coordinate its responses. A system of nerves and a number of chemical regulators called hormones coordinate activities within an organism. The organism responds to the stimuli by means of a number of effectors, such as muscles and glands. Energy is generally used in the process.

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Organisms change their behavior in response to changes in the surrounding environment. For example, an organism may move in response to its environment. Responses such as this occur in definite patterns and make up the behavior of an organism. The behavior is active, not passive; an animal responding to a stimulus is different from a stone rolling down a hill. Living things display responsiveness; nonliving things do not.

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Growth: Growth requires an organism to take in material from the environment and organize the material into its own structures. To accomplish growth, an organism expends some of the energy it acquires during metabolism. An organism has a pattern for accomplishing the building of growth structures.

During growth, a living organism transforms material that is unlike itself into materials that are like it. A person, for example, digests a meal of meat and vegetables and transforms the chemical material into more of himself or herself. A nonliving organism does not display this characteristic.

Reproduction: A living thing has the ability to produce copies of itself by the process known as reproduction. These copies are made while the organism is still living. Among plants and simple animals, reproduction is often an extension of the growth process. More complex organisms engage in a type of reproduction called sexual reproduction, in which two parents contribute to the formation of a new individual. During this process, a new combination of traits can be produced.

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Asexual reproduction involves only one parent, and the resulting cells are generally identical to the parent cell. For example, bacteria grow and quickly reach maturity, after which they split into two organisms by a process of asexual reproduction called binary fission.

Evolution: Living organisms have the ability to adapt to their environment through the process of evolution. During evolution, changes occur in populations, and the organisms in the population become better able to metabolize, respond, and reproduce. They develop abilities to cope with their environment that their ancestors did not have.

Evolution also results in a greater variety of organisms than existed in previous eras. This proliferation of populations of organisms is unique to living things.

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Ecology: The environment influences the living things that it surrounds. Ecology is the study of relationships between organisms and their relationships with their environment. Both biotic factors (living things) and abiotic factors (non-living things) can alter the environment. Rain and sunlight are non-living components, for example, that greatly influence the environment. Living things may migrate or hibernate if the environment becomes difficult to live in.

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