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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

difference between DNA and RNA
Eyitayo Reply
what determines the aeration level in the soil
Shola Reply
what is homeostasis?
Sarita Reply
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
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
what is integument system
Joy Reply
Cellular respiration
Lucy Reply
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
identification of problems
Nana Reply
what happens in the process of raising the human arms
Nana
what is biology
Brandi Reply
first step in scientific method
Brandi
In an investigation the pancreatic duct of a mammal was blocked.It was found that the blood sugar regulation remained normal while food digestion was impaired.Explain
Mac Reply
To begin with, obstruction of pancreatic duct will alter the blood sugar level as the juices responsible for glucose regulation will be rendered inconsequential. This will in turn affect the rate of digestion and absorbtion of digested food substances by the Villus .
Muktar
characteristics of algae
OMIME Reply
Algae are eukaryotic organisms. Algae do not have roots and stems. Algae have chlorophyll and helps in carrying out photosynthesis.
Aditi
Cell wall is the rigid layer enclosed by membranes of plants and prokayortic cell, it maintains the shape of the cell and serve as a protective barrier.
chizoba Reply
ECOLOGY: is a branch of biology that studies the interactions among organisms and their biophysical environment, which includes both biotic and abiotic components. 
chizoba
via nutrient cycles and energy flows. For instance, the energy from the sun is captured by plants through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a biological process through which plants manufacture their own food with the aid of light from the sun and frc sources (e.g. cabon dioxide and water)
chizoba

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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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