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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The Why Files
Well-researched, educational descriptions of the actual science behind current news stories. From the University of Wisconsin, supported by the National Institute for Science Education of the NSF.
Dr. Farabee's Online Biology Book
Well organized and illustrated general biology text from Estrella Mountain Community College, Phoenix, Arizona.
The MIT Biology Hypertextbook
Comprehensive, online, general biology textbook supported by multimedia materials, interactive practice problems, and a searchable index-from the Experimental Study Group at MIT.
Online Biology Textbook
Excellent introductory biology text adapted from print version by Dr. John W. Kimball, retired from Harvard University.
Science For Business, Law and Journalism
Online textbook and materials for a non-majors biology course. Emphasizes scientific method including how to think, not what to think. Examples include cooking, condom testing, nuclear power plants, and HIV.
Revision for GCSE Science and worksheets for Key Stage 3 Science.
Online biology textbooks in genetics, molecular and cellular biology.
The science and issues behind modern biological research.
Examines the condition of bioscience literacy through current issues on environment, biodiversity, genomics, biotechnology, evolution, and biology. Peer-reviewed articles are accepted from scientists and educators.
NBII Educational Resources
Links to biological resources and information of interest to teachers, students, and others categorized by educational level from K thru college - from the National Biological Information Infrastructure.
Incubation and Embrology
A hands-on project that teaches science and respect for life.
Digital Anatomist Interactive Atlases
Interactive Atlases show views of organs reconstructed from slices.
Welcome to human anatomy on-line, a place for fun, interactive and educational views of the human body.
Neuroscience for Kids
Intended for elementary and secondary school students and teachers who are interested in learning more about the nervous system and brain.
Amazing Biology Facts and Trivia
Great fun facts and trivia relating to biology.
The MAD Scientist Network
Ask-A-Scientist, fun educational activities, and information resources - from Washington Univ.-St. Louis.
Sighting the First Sense - Seeing is Believing
Educational tools and resources regarding sight and visual perception.
Interactive virtual labs, animations, and web videos through which one can learn about various aspects of biology. Also offers a virtual museum.
Educational site and software for biology and medicine in high and secondary schools. Provides animations of biological processes (in VRML format).
Biology Web Site References for Teachers and Students
A directory of information sites about topics such as cells, microbiology, ecology, genetics, evolution, plants, and human physiology.
Extensive digital library of biological resources for biology teaching and research at all educational levels. Requires a free registration.
The Biology Project
Excellent tutorials and problem sets for learning Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Human Biology, Molecular Biology, Mendelian Genetics, and Immunology from The University of Arizona.