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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify and describe the properties of life
  • Describe the levels of organization among living things
  • Recognize and interpret a phylogenetic tree
  • List examples of different sub disciplines in biology

Biology is the science that studies life, but what exactly is life? This may sound like a silly question with an obvious response, but it is not always easy to define life. For example, a branch of biology called virology studies viruses, which exhibit some of the characteristics of living entities but lack others. It turns out that although viruses can attack living organisms, cause diseases, and even reproduce, they do not meet the criteria that biologists use to define life. Consequently, virologists are not biologists, strictly speaking. Similarly, some biologists study the early molecular evolution that gave rise to life; since the events that preceded life are not biological events, these scientists are also excluded from biology in the strict sense of the term.

From its earliest beginnings, biology has wrestled with three questions: What are the shared properties that make something “alive”? And once we know something is alive, how do we find meaningful levels of organization in its structure? And, finally, when faced with the remarkable diversity of life, how do we organize the different kinds of organisms so that we can better understand them? As new organisms are discovered every day, biologists continue to seek answers to these and other questions.

Properties of life

All living organisms share several key characteristics or functions: order, sensitivity or response to the environment, reproduction, adaptation, growth and development, regulation, homeostasis, energy processing, and evolution. When viewed together, these nine characteristics serve to define life.

Order

A photo shows a light-colored toad covered in bright green spots.
A toad represents a highly organized structure consisting of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems. (credit: “Ivengo”/Wikimedia Commons)

Organisms are highly organized, coordinated structures that consist of one or more cells. Even very simple, single-celled organisms are remarkably complex: inside each cell, atoms make up molecules; these in turn make up cell organelles and other cellular inclusions. In multicellular organisms ( [link] ), similar cells form tissues. Tissues, in turn, collaborate to create organs (body structures with a distinct function). Organs work together to form organ systems.

Sensitivity or response to stimuli

A photograph of the Mimosa pudica shows a plant with many tiny leaves connected to a central stem. Four of these stems connect together.
The leaves of this sensitive plant ( Mimosa pudica ) will instantly droop and fold when touched. After a few minutes, the plant returns to normal. (credit: Alex Lomas)

Organisms respond to diverse stimuli. For example, plants can bend toward a source of light, climb on fences and walls, or respond to touch ( [link] ). Even tiny bacteria can move toward or away from chemicals (a process called chemotaxis ) or light ( phototaxis ). Movement toward a stimulus is considered a positive response, while movement away from a stimulus is considered a negative response.

Questions & Answers

What is ecology
Hebert Reply
what is cell
Etama Reply
cell is the basic unit of life
Asiatou
cell is the basic structural and functional unit of an living organism
Darshan
a cell is the smallest and most basic unit of a living thing
John
cell is the basic unit of life. we are made up of 60,000 billions of cells.Each cell carry out a specific function in the body.
Pallavi
A cell is the smallest basic functioning unit of life.
Ali
where is the pectoral gridle located?
Tiania Reply
What is hypotonic
Bright Reply
what is hypotonic
Dangaya
Hypotonic means weak solution
Ali
the difference between the two cells
Obeng Reply
explain the courses and the correction of lon term sightedness and short term sightedness
Isaac Reply
why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
Can we chat about nutrition please?
Elia
yes
Uzair
sure
Uzair
Uhm why is it so important to follow the nutritional process?
Elia
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle
give me the elements of the soil
Iguma Reply
Air, water, organic matter, inorganic matter
Tshwano
soil water humus air
Veronicah
yap
Beloved
silica, iron
Patience
potassium, sulfur, calcium, carbon
Michelle
what is cell
iyaji Reply
A cell is a smallest fundamental unit of a living organisms.
Kem
the basic structural and functional unit of life
Patience
what is size of cell
Mohd
all things are made up of.....all things cannot exist without pre-exisiting cells...check out the 16th ce tury to learn more about microscope use and cells. i will give a hint: Mr. L.
Michelle
we are all made of cells
Michelle
Nutrition - sensitive intervention
Therowda Reply
what does the sori In fern mean
arhin Reply
biology is the study .exactly what is life?
Jerry
i'm sorry , the study of life
Jerry
How is food distributed to all parts of cytoplasm
Therowda
how can U identify a person through his blood
Frankyx Reply
through genetic fingerprinting where specific DNA sequences in a person genome can be identified.
Pallavi
by help of genetics and DNA test
Meerbadini
can it also be detected using an RNA test
Frankyx

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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