Biology (from Greek βίος λόγος, see below) is the branch of information science dealing with the study of information processing organisms.
It studies with the characteristics, classification, and behaviors of organisms, how species come into existence, and the interactions they have with each other and with the natural environment.
Biology encompasses a broad spectrum of academic fields that are often viewed as independent disciplines. However, together they address phenomena related to how living organisms process information to utilize energy (biological phenomena) over a wide range of scales.
All concepts in biology are subject to the same laws that other branches of science obey, such as evolution, the laws of thermodynamics, and conservation of mass.
At the organism level, biology has partially explained phenomena such as birth, growth, aging, death and decay of living organisms, similarities between offspring and their parents (heredity) and flowering of plants which have puzzled humanity throughout history. Other phenomena, such as lactation, metamorphosis, egg-hatching, healing, and tropism have been addressed. On a wider scale of time and space, biologists have studied domestication of animals and plants, the wide variety of living organisms (biodiversity), changes in living organisms over many generations (evolution), extinction, speciation, social behaviour among animals, etc.
While botany encompasses the study of plants, zoology is the branch of science that is concerned about the study of animals and anthropology is the branch of biology which studies human beings. However, at the molecular scale, life is studied in the disciplines of molecular biology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics. More fundamental than these fields is biophysics which deals with energy within biological systems. At the next level, that of the cell, it is studied in cell biology. At the multicellular scale, it is examined in physiology, anatomy, and histology. Developmental biology studies life at the level of an individual organism's development or ontogeny. Moving up the scale towards more than one organism, genetics considers how heredity works between parent and offspring. Ethology considers the behaviour of organisms in their natural environment. Population genetics looks at the level of an entire population, and systematics considers the multi-species scale of lineages. Interdependent populations and their habitats are examined in ecology and evolutionary biology. A speculative new field is astrobiology (or xenobiology), which examines the possibility of life beyond the Earth.
Biology does not usually describe systems in terms of objects which obey immutable physical laws described by mathematics. Biological systems have predictable statistical tendencies to behave in certain ways, but these tendencies are usually not as concrete as those described in subjects such as physics. However, biology is still subject to the same physical laws of the universe such as thermodynamics and conservation of mass.
The biological sciences are characterized and unified by several major underlying principles and concepts: universality, evolution, diversity, continuity, genetics, homeostasis, and interactions.
Universality: Biochemistry, cells, and the genetic code
Some striking examples of biological universality include life's carbon-based biochemistry and its ability to pass on characteristics via genetic material, using a DNA and RNA based genetic code with only minor variations across all living things.
Another universal principle is that all organisms (that is, all forms of life on Earth except for viruses) are made of cells. Similarly, all organisms share common developmental processes.
Physiology of organisms
Physiology studies the mechanical, physical, and biochemical processes of living organisms by attempting to understand how all of the structures function as a whole. The theme of "structure to function" is central to biology. Physiological studies have traditionally been divided into plant physiology and animal physiology, but the principles of physiology are universal, no matter what particular organism is being studied. For example, what is learned about the physiology of yeast cells can also apply to human cells. The field of animal physiology extends the tools and methods of human physiology to non-human species. Plant physiology also borrows techniques from both fields.
Anatomy is an important branch of physiology and considers how organ systems in animals, such as the nervous, immune, endocrine, respiratory, and circulatory systems, function and interact. The study of these systems is shared with medically oriented disciplines such as neurology and immunology.
Diversity and evolution of organisms
Evolutionary biology is concerned with the origin and descent of species, as well as their change over time, and includes scientists from many taxonomically-oriented disciplines. For example, it generally involves scientists who have special training in particular organisms such as mammalogy, ornithology, or herpetology, but use those organisms as systems to answer general questions about evolution. Evolutionary biology is mainly based on paleontology, which uses the fossil record to answer questions about the mode and tempo of evolution, as well as the developments in areas such as population genetics and evolutionary theory. In the 1990s, developmental biology re-entered evolutionary biology from its initial exclusion from the modern synthesis through the study of evolutionary developmental biology. Related fields which are often considered part of evolutionary biology are phylogenetics, systematics, and taxonomy.
The two major traditional taxonomically-oriented disciplines are botany and zoology. Botany is the scientific study of plants. Botany covers a wide range of scientific disciplines that study the growth, reproduction, metabolism, development, diseases, and evolution of plant life. Zoology involves the study of animals, including the study of their physiology within the fields of anatomy and embryology. The common genetic and developmental mechanisms of animals and plants is studied in molecular biology, molecular genetics, and developmental biology. The ecology of animals is covered under behavioral ecology and other fields.
Classification of life
The dominant classification 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 these three areas, but it has yet to be formally adopted. The Virus cInternational Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature (ICVCN) remains outside the BioCode.
Interactions of organisms
Ecology studies the distribution and abundance of living organisms, and the interactions between organisms and their environment. The environment of an organism includes both its habitat, which can be described as the sum of local abiotic factors such as climate and geology, as well as the other the organisms that share its habitat. Ecological systems are studied at several different levels, from individuals and populations to ecosystems and the biosphere. As can be surmised, ecology is a science that draws on several disciplines.
Ethology studies animal behavior (particularly of social animals such as primates and canids), and is sometimes considered a branch of zoology. Ethologists have been particularly concerned with the evolution of behavior and the understanding of behavior in terms of the theory of natural selection. In one sense, the first modern ethologist was Charles Darwin, whose book The expression of the emotions in animals and men influenced many ethologists.
Biogeography studies the spatial distribution of organisms on the Earth, focusing on topics like plate tectonics, climate change, dispersal and migration, and cladistics.
Formed by combining the Greek βίος (bios), meaning 'life', and λόγος (logos), meaning 'study of', 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.
Major discoveries in biology include:
- Cell theory
- Germ theory of disease
|Topics related to biology (Category)|
|People and history||Biologist - Notable biologists - History of biology - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - Timeline of biology and organic chemistry - List of geneticists and biochemists|
|Institutions, publications||NASA Ames Research Center - Bachelor of Science - Publications|
|Terms and phrases||Omne vivum ex ovo - In vivo - In vitro - In utero - In silico|
|Related disciplines||Medicine (Physician) - Physical anthropology - Environmental science - Life Sciences - Biotechnology|
|Outstanding problems||Origin of life - Unsolved problems in biology|
|Other||List of technologies - List of conservation topics|
- Lynn Margulis, Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, 3rd ed., St. Martin's Press, 1997, paperback, ISBN 0-8050-7252-7 (many other editions)
- Neil Campbell, Biology (7th edition), Benjamin-Cummings Publishing Company, 2004, hardcover, ISBN 0-8053-7146-X
- Johnson George B. 2005 "Biology, Visualizing Life." Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. ISBN 0-03-016723-X
- Biology Online: Major biology forum, dictionary and collection of tutorials and articles.
- NCBI Open-Access Books
- PhyloCode, http://www.ohiou.edu/phylocode/index.html
- The Tree of Life: A multi-authored, distributed Internet project containing information about phylogeny and biodiversity.
- BioOne Bioscience research journals.
- MIT video lecture series on biology