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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

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
What is cell wall
Taiwo Reply
cell wall is the outemost rigid covering of the plants ,that provides protection to the plants.
Aditi
what is ecology, ecosystem?
Nkeng Reply
what is digestive system
Lucky Reply
digestive system is the human syman system that icludes esopuges stomach o braking down of food in to useful substance to our body
samrawit
definition of biology basics
Ritu Reply
the potential energy of a molecule can be inquired by their number of?
Jesus Reply
what is the full meaning of RNA
Ayo Reply
ribose nucleic acid
Nikita
Ribonucleic acid
Jesus
Ribo Nucleic Acid
Aditi
ribonucleic acid
Nana
discuss, describe at least three (3) methods that could be used to improve photosynthesis..
Marvel Reply
Improve the efficiency with which plants capture light Improve the efficiency by which plants turn light into energy The smart canopy concept develop crop planting schemes that increase the penetration of sunlight into lower-level leaves.
Jesus
what is osmosis
Aon Reply
movement of water molecule from higher to lower concentration through a semipereable membrene.
Dr
what of in the case of solute
Aon
osmosis is the movement of molecules from higher concentration region to lower concentration region through semi-permeable membrane.
Broad
in case of solute means that water moves from the region with lower solutes to the region with higher solute. so it is vice versa to water.
Broad
osmosis is the movement of water molecule from a region of lower concentration to a region of higher concentration through a semi permeable membrane
Nana
what are the hydrophilic and hydrophobic region of the plasma membrane?
Samuel Reply
hydrophilic in other word it called water loving and hydrophobic region other word is region that does not contact with water in the plasma membrane.
Broad
the phospholipids
Jesus

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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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