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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
  • List examples of different sub disciplines in biology

Biology is the science that studies life. What exactly is life? This may sound like a silly question with an obvious answer, but it is not 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.

From its earliest beginnings, biology has wrestled with four questions: What are the shared properties that make something “alive”? How do those various living things function? When faced with the remarkable diversity of life, how do we organize the different kinds of organisms so that we can better understand them? And, finally—what biologists ultimately seek to understand—how did this diversity arise and how is it continuing? As new organisms are discovered every day, biologists continue to seek answers to these and other questions.

Properties of life

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

Order

Organisms are highly organized 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 components or organelles. Multicellular organisms, which may consist of millions of individual cells, have an advantage over single-celled organisms in that their cells can be specialized to perform specific functions, and even sacrificed in certain situations for the good of the organism as a whole. How these specialized cells come together to form organs such as the heart, lung, or skin in organisms like the toad shown in [link] will be discussed later.

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(RUS)"/Wikimedia Commons)

Sensitivity or response to stimuli

Organisms respond to diverse stimuli. For example, plants can bend toward a source of light 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.

A photograph of the Mimosa pudica shows a plant with many tiny leaves.
The leaves of this sensitive plant ( Mimosa pudica ) will instantly droop and fold when touched. After a few minutes, the plant returns to its normal state. (credit: Alex Lomas)

Concept in action

Watch this video to see how the sensitive plant responds to a touch stimulus.

Reproduction

Single-celled organisms reproduce by first duplicating their DNA, which is the genetic material, and then dividing it equally as the cell prepares to divide to form two new cells. Many multicellular organisms (those made up of more than one cell) produce specialized reproductive cells that will form new individuals. When reproduction occurs, DNA containing genes is passed along to an organism’s offspring. These genes are the reason that the offspring will belong to the same species and will have characteristics similar to the parent, such as fur color and blood type.

Questions & Answers

distinguish between properties and characteristics
Elee Reply
what are organelles
Elee
what is biology
Prevail Reply
biology is science that studies life
Elee
it's the study of living and non living things
now that we have an estimate for the diameter of the cell.what estimate can we make about the volume of the cell?
faxhood Reply
why too much insulin result in low blood sugar
Leri Reply
For example, too much exercise can cost you to lose to much weight. Too much insulin will pull to much sugar out of your systemic system into your cells.
Eric
difference between DNA and RNA
Eyitayo Reply
DNA is deoxyribonuclaic acid. Deoxy refers to a lack of oxygen. The Ribose moity is missing an OH group. I think it is missing from the second C of the ring. RNA is ribonucleic acid. DNA has our genetic code in on it. RNA is translated from DNA and carries the blue print for protein synthesis.
Eric
The OH group on RNA prevents it from being reactive. But it is very unstable though. Would you want such a power tool floating around in your body, no. And you have three types of RNA: mRNA, tRNA and rRNA. Please let me know it this helped?😄
Eric
o
Browse
Eric answered this question perfectly
what determines the aeration level in the soil
Shola Reply
what is homeostasis?
Sarita Reply
It means balance in a biological system.
Eric
What is biology
Don Reply
Biology z the study of life
GOLDEN
what's biology
buran
biology is the study of living nd none living organism
Chinaza
Biology is the study of life
Quadri
yes Sir
Said
what's cell biology
Prince
biology is the study of life
Raheal
what is asexual reproduction,?
Awoi Reply
A type of reproduction which does not involve the fusion of gametes or a change in the number of chromosomes
Serena
Reproduction without sex... In which form a single organism or cell makes a copy of itself.
Serena
Please explain the concept of mitosis and meiosis
Serena
I guess you could use it for study buddies and brushing up on what you need to
Serena
what is mitosis
Klp
Asexual reproduction?
Serena
why pepsin and trypsin released in active form?
Yacqub
mitosis is the type cell division in which two daughter cells have same no. of chormosomes
syed
Hi
Don
chromosome number remains the same in mitosis
mc
Ello
Henry
Hii
Nikky
Yrr help me.
Nikky
Physical chemistry..... Koi h jo mujhe physical chem ki notes send kr ske
Nikky
what is asexual reproduction
Targbe
what makes golgi body in plants
Abdulkareem Reply
name the membrane of the plants
Abdulkareem
how can turners syndrome be corrected before birth
Balinda
which animal survive from being preyed just because of being humble, slow, and not aggressive
Balinda
Plants have golgi body's also. Plants are eukaryotic cells. And membrane bound organelles are a characteristic of eukaryotic cells. Moreover golgi body's are creatted from the ER. Also do not forget plants have plastids and animal cells do not.
Eric
During organs transplantation, the organs cannot be taken from just anybody since the graft would be rejected sooner or later due to
Liter Reply
Non-MHC compatibility on the organ and an attack from the patient's immune system.
Eric
what makes golgi body in plants
Abdulkareem
why trypsin and pepsin released in active form
Yacqub
Let us remember MHC'S on our cells. This is how our cells determine self from n o n s e l f. Transplanted tissue has to have a certain amount markers. These have to match to the recipiant's markers. Even with this, immunosuppresant medacine is prescribed to the recipient.
Eric
Even with these measures the body may still reject the transport. This can occur even after the recipient excepting the transport for some time.
Eric
what is integument system
Joy Reply
This system is our skin. This includes the skin lining our alimentary system which includes the tissue from our mouth to our anus. Our skin is our largest organ system. It is mostly made up of epithelial tissue.
Eric
Cellular respiration
Lucy Reply
This is how our cells make energy. They use glucose + oxygen. There are other facors involves also. But these are the main two reactant used, for aerobic respiration. The main product is ATP. ATP is a high energy molecule which is paramount for life.
Eric
what are the characteristics of living things
Ruth Reply
Movement Respiration Nutrition/Feeding Irritability/Sensitivity Growth Excretion Reproduction Deat/Life span
Hashim
What makes children from the same father and mother sometimes don't look alike?
Hashim
One of the main one's is the abilit reproduce. That is why viruses are not considered living. Because they do not have the ability to replicate on they own.
Eric
identification of problems
Nana Reply
what happens in the process of raising the human arms
Nana

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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