Most of us know biology simply as a science subject we studied at some point in school. It covers everything from the purpose of a phospholipid bilayer in the structure of plasma membranes to the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck, but what really defines what it means to study biology?
Biology, simply put, is the study of life. It is the job of a biologist to observe organisms (any form of life) and their interactions with abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors of their environment. Now we come to another serious question. How do scientists define life? Although it seems like a silly question at first, people often get stumped on the actual requirements of what it means to have “life.” After many years, the scientific community has developed five principles defining all organisms:
- All organisms must be made up of one or more membrane-bound and aqueous solution-filled units called cells. Cells are highly organized and the internal solution is concentrated with chemicals. The plasma membrane that contains these units regulates the movement of materials entering and leaving the cell.
- The cell(s) of an organism must have the ability to process information. Most importantly, this includes processing genetic information that will eventually determine the characteristics of the cell and the organism as a whole. The unit of this hereditary material is the gene. Cells must also process and respond to information from the environment.
- All organisms must both acquire and use energy. Some may get energy from the sun in photosynthesis, while others retrieve it from nutrients in chemosynthesis and still others acquire energy by consuming other organisms. This energy can be used for needs such as growth, transportation and communication.
- The goal of all life-forms is to reproduce/replicate. Without reproduction, a species would surely not survive. Again, different organisms have learned to accomplish this goal in different ways. Some may reproduce sexually while others may replicate asexually.
- All organisms are the product of evolution. They have a line of ancestry containing organisms with different characteristics from what they express today, and populations are continually adapting and undergoing changes to improve their overall fitness (ability to survive and reproduce) in an environment.
So, for those of us who took the definition of living for granted, there are the true and scientific standards of life. Biology is the exciting process of examining and exploring life in all of its forms.