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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Santa Fe Institute
SFI draws scientists from universities and research institutions world-wide to pursue broad research problems. Much of the work focuses on the science of complexity (emergence), which examines underlying patterns and regularities behind a wide assortment of real-world phenomena. Projects range from the communication patterns of ants to the way information spreads across economic markets.
Theoretical Biology and Biophysics (T-10)
The Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group (T-10) at Los Alamos National Laboratory focuses on the modeling of biological systems and the analysis and informatics of molecular and cellular biological data.
Home page of a theoretical biologist with general interests in Philosophy of Nature, Philosophy of Science, and Science Studies, and research interests in artificial life and theoretical biology. Links to online papers, other resources, and to the Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies.
Theoretical Biology Groningen
Our research focusses on competition and natural selection, more specifically evolutionary game theory, life history theory, sexual selection, sex allocation, metapopulation genetics, resource competition, and interference competition.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University
The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Department carries out research in a wide range of areas across evolution and ecology. Areas of particular interest include molecular evolution, behavioural ecology, the dynamics of communities and populations, and conservation biology.
Honig Lab at Columbia University
Research combines computational biophysics and bioinformatics to aid in understanding the structural, physical, and chemical basis of a wide range of biological phenomena, with a focus on protein structure and function. Includes publications list and information on software developed by the group.
Molecular Information Theory
The theory of molecular machines from the NIH Laboratory of Computational and Experimental Biology.
Random Variations to Biological Choice
Philosophical speculations on physics and biology.
Short Courses on the Mathematics of Biological Complexity
Three short courses will be held at the University of Tennessee to give biologists a rapid introduction to the mathematical and computational topics appropriate for understanding current research in biological complexity.
Program in Theoretical Biology, Institute for Advanced Study
The Program in Theoretical Biology has many diverse interests, including immunology and virology, the evolution of language, evolutionary genomics, epidemiology, the evolution of cancer and the evolution of cooperation and fairness.
Careers in Theoretical Biology
Guidance brochure for high school and undergraduate students. Defines theoretical biology, gives examples of its application, and provides advice on preparing for a career in the field.
University of Vienna
Department of Theoretical Biology. Research groups and resources.
University of Lund
Department of Theoretical Ecology. Members, teaching and research.
Theoretical Biology at Utrecht University, Netherlands
Formal models in ecology, spatial pattern formation, (molecular) evolution, immunology, and ethology. Formalisms range from mathematical models, cellular automata, genetic algorithms, to discrete-event individual-oriented simulation models. Bioinformatic approach typically involves spatial, multi-leveled models with many interacting entities whose behavior is determined by local information.
Home page of a theoretical neurobiologist at Swinburne University of Technology. Papers on theoretical models of the mammalian electroencephalogram and related lecture notes (medical imaging, physiological modeling).
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Department of Theoretical Biology. A do-it-yourself online course in 'methods in theoretical biology' and yearly organised online courses on the Dynamic Energy Budget (DEB) theory of the development and growth of organisms.