BiologyBiology is the science of life. It is concerned with the characteristics and behaviors of organisms, how species and individuals come into existence, and the interactions they have with each other and with their environment.
Overview of biology
Biology encompasses a broad spectrum of academic fields that are often viewed as independent disciplines. Together, they study life over a wide range of scales:
- at the atomic and molecular scale, through molecular biology, biochemistry, and to some extent genetics
- at the cellular scale, through cell biology
- at the multicellular scales, through physiology, anatomy, and histology
- at the level of the development or ontogeny of an individual organism, through developmental biology
- at the level of heredity between parent and offspring through genetics
- at the level of group behavior through ethology
- at the level of an entire population, through population genetics
- on the multi-species scale of lineages, through systematics
- at the level of interdependent populations and their habitats through ecology and evolutionary biology
- and speculatively through xenobiology at the level of life beyond the Earth.
Fields of study in biology
Aerobiology -- Anatomy -- Arachnology-- Astrobiology -- Biochemistry -- Bionics -- Biogeography -- Bioinformatics -- Biomechanics -- Biophysics-- Biotechnology -- Botany -- Cell biology -- Chorology -- Cladistics -- Crustaceology -- Cryptozoology -- Cycles -- Cytology -- Developmental biology -- Disease (Genetic diseases, Infectious diseases) -- Ecology (Theoretical ecology, Symbiology, Autecology, Synecology) -- Ethology -- Entomology -- Evolutionary biology (Evolution) -- Evolutionary developmental biology -- Freshwater biology -- Genetics (Population genetics, Quantitative genetics, Genomics, Proteomics) -- Herpetology -- Histology -- Human biology (Anthropology) -- Ichthyology -- Immunology -- Infectious diseases -- Pathology -- Epidemiology -- Limnology -- Malacology -- Mammalogy -- Marine biology -- Microbiology (Bacteriology) -- Molecular biology -- Morphology -- Mycology / Lichenology --- Myrmecology --- Neuroscience (Neuroanatomy, Neurophysiology, Systems neuroscience, Biological psychology, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Behavioral science, Neuroethology, Psychophysics, Computational neuroscience, Cognitive neuroscience, Cognitive science)-- Oncology (the study of cancer) -- Ontogeny -- Origin of life -- Ornithology -- Paleontology (Paleobotany, Paleozoology)-- Parasitology -- Phycology (Algology) -- Phylogeny (Phylogenetics, Phylogeography) -- Physiology -- Phytopathology -- Structural biology -- Taxonomy -- Toxicology (the study of poisons and pollution) -- Virology -- Xenobiology -- Zoology
Medicine -- Physical anthropology
People and history
Famous biologists -- History of biology -- Nobel prize in physiology or medicine -- Timeline of biology and organic chemistry
List of topics
See: List of biology topics
What are our priorities for writing in this area? To help develop a list of the most basic topics in biology, please see Wikipedia:biology basic topics.
Evolution and biology
One of the central, organizing concepts in biology is that all life has descended from a common origin through a process of evolution. Charles Darwin established evolution as a viable theory by articulating its driving force: natural selection. Genetic drift was embraced as an additional mechanism in the so-called modern synthesis. The evolutionary history of a species—which tells the characteristics of the various species from which it descended—together with its genealogical relationship to every other species is called its phylogeny. Widely varied approaches to biology generate information about phylogeny. These include the comparisons of DNA sequences conducted within molecular biology or genomics, and comparisons of fossils or other records of ancient organisms in paleontology. Biologists organize and analyze evolutionary relationships through various methods, including phylogenetics, phenetics, and cladistics. Major events in the evolution of life, as biologists currently understand them, are summarized on this evolutionary timeline.
Classification of life
The classification of living things is called systematics, or taxonomy, and should reflect the evolutionary trees (phylogenetic trees) of the different organisms. Taxonomy piles up organisms in groups called taxa, while systematics seeks their relationships. The dominant system is called Linnaean taxonomy, which includes ranks and binomial nomenclature. How organisms are named is governed by international agreements such as the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), and the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB). A fourth Draft BioCode was published in 1997 in an attempt to standardize naming in the three areas, but it does not appear to have yet been formally adopted. The International Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature (ICVCN) remains outside the BioCode.
Traditionally, living things were divided into five kingdoms:
However, this five-kingdom system is now considered by many to be outdated. More modern alternatives generally begin with the three-domain system:
- Monera -- Protista -- Fungi -- Plantae -- Animalia
These domains reflect whether cells have nuclei or not as well as differences in cell exteriors.
- Archaea (originally Archaebacteria) -- Bacteria (originally Eubacteria) -- Eukaryota
There is also a series of intracellular "parasites" that are progressively less alive in terms of being metabolically active:
- Viruses -- Viroids -- Prions
History of the word "biology"
Formed by combining the Greek βίος (bios), meaning 'life', and λόγος (logos), meaning 'word', the word "biology" in its modern sense seems to have been introduced independently by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur, 1802) and by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Hydrogéologie, 1802). The word itself is sometimes said to have been coined in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Burdach, but it appears in the title of Volume 3 of Michael Christoph Hanov's Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae: Geologia, biologia, phytologia generalis et dendrologia, published in 1766.
External links and resources
- Lynn Margulis, Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, 3rd ed., St. Martin's Press, 1997, paperback, ISBN 0805072527 (many other editions)
- Neil Campbell, Biology: Concepts & Connections (4th edition), Benjamin-Cummings Publishing Company, 2002, hardcover, ISBN 080536627X (college-level text)
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I Can Do That
Cartoon characters take you on a tour of cells, DNA, RNA and biological techniques.
Quia Biology Activities
Games and quizzes for learning biology. Over 10 types of activities to choose from, including matching games, flash cards, hangman, trivia games, and quizzes.
Enter the world of Science Bob to try home experiments, visit his on-line lab and get answers to your science questions.
Introduces the natural history of the sea through a fun game.
Includes guidelines for incubating and candling eggs, photos, movies, egg cam, and resources. Sponsored by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension.
Forest Speaks Exhibit
Educational web version of the Visitor's Center exhibit at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Includes information on rainforest mammals, frogs, birds and plants.
The Temperate Rain Forest Canopy of the Pacific Northwest
Hidden picture of canopy critters, Ask Dr. Canopy, leaf and bark rubbings, poetry, and conservation tips.
The complete nature and wildlife resource featuring the Audubon Guides to plants and animals, outdoor planner and destination guide, habitat Guide, eCards, and newsletters.
The Visible Embryo
Provides a visual journey through the stages of human development from conception to birth.
The Biology Project
Online interactive resource for learning biology. Content includes Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Human Biology, Molecular Biology, Mendelian Genetics, and Immunology.
The Open Door Web Site
A Natural Science reference site for middle school students. Includes topic chapters, facts and figures, questions and quizzes. Quick search and index search available, as well as an Internet guide.
Cool Science For Curious Kids
Fun and interactive site to help kids appreciate science. Why are snakes like lizards, and monkeys like moose? Find out here.
The Guardians of the Millennium
Describes microbiology, the rain forest and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Also in French, German, and Spanish.
A site intended to teach users about biology and biotechnology. Includes some educational illustrations and animations that can be downloaded by teachers and other educators for use in their curriculum.
Activities in Biology
Provides interactive quizzes on topics such as cell biology, organ systems, ecology, and photosynthesis.
Common Teasers in Biology
Offers a few facts such as how an insect breaths to why a chameleon can change it's color.
Neuroscience for Kids
Text, interactive activities, games, and links about the nervous system. Users may make neuroscience postcards to send to their friends.
Science For Kids
Offers news about plants, animals, and other life science issues. Also includes pop quizzes, and pictures. Site is available in Spanish.
Online activities, labs and tutorials. Site available in Spanish.
A volunteer project that observes and records natural history events such as plants flowering, birds returning, frogs peeping, and weather events. Offers a field guide, graphs, maps, and reasons for the project.
Diversity of Life Web Index
Links to information about each of the kingdoms and a glossary of terms.
Tree of Life Web Project
Classification of organisms. Has diagrams showing where all organisms fit into the evolutionary tree.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Kids Pages
Games, music, brainteasers, and other activities that introduce children to the impact of the environment on health.
Information on North American animals and plants with illustrations, text, activities, and access to a naturalist.
Facts, in-depth articles, ask-a-scientist forum, archive of answers and newsletter on oceans and ocean life.
Wildlife-Our Wild Neighbors
Learn about wild animals through online fun and games.
Online Biology Book
Provides concise information on all aspects of biology, from biochemistry and body systems to plants and history.
Biology In Motion
Online activities for learning biology, including animated cartoons, an evolution simulation laboratory, and drag-and-drop quizzes.
A look at individual organisms, communities, populations, species, and ecological food webs.
Science Isn't Hard
Interactive GCSE Biology website. Some of the topics that it covers are cells, photosynthesis, the nervous system and homeostasis.