Biology quite literally means “the study of life”. It’s composed of the Greek roots ‘bios’ meaning life and ‘logos’ meaning study. Biologists work to understand the origins, structures, functions, developments, and distribution of living organisms. Since biology is such a broad genre, it often encompasses and overlaps with other scientific disciplines that focus more specifically on one aspect of biology, such as anatomy, biochemistry, or genetics.
You might wonder what even qualifies as a “living organism”. While we intuitively know what is alive and what is not, such as a bird versus a rock, defining what constitutes life has been a challenge all throughout the history of biology. Because of centuries of biological advancements, we can distinguish a non-living entity from a living organism by its capacity to do the following:
organize: different structures within an organism fulfill different functions.
homeostasis: an organism regulates its internal environment to remain alive. “Homeostasis” simply means the ability to maintain a steady internal environment (temperature, fluid balance, etc…).
grow: an organism grows in size or in number.
metabolize: an organism is able to use and convert energy from different sources to fuel its processes.
respond to stimuli: an organism responds to changes in its environment in order to survive.
adapt: throughout time and across generations, organisms adapt to their environmental conditions to enhance survival. More specifically, an organism’s DNA will slowly change to adapt to biotic and abiotic conditions in the organism’s environment through a process called “natural selection.”
inherit genetic material: all living things inherit and pass down genetic material (DNA) in which are encoded the structures and functions of their cell(s).
reproduce: last but not least, anything considered to be “alive” is able to reproduce.
Studying the different aspects of biology is fascinating because it explores the world we live in and the life that inhabits it. The subject has also allowed us to make tremendous improvements in improving our own survival as a species, such as through medicine. Studying biology can help us understand other species, our relation to them, and how we can help them survive, especially in the context of a changing planet.
Written by Gwen Aubrac
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