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Wonders of Biology

Symphony of Science – The Greatest Show on Earth! A music video about Evolution

A musical celebration of the wonders of biology, including evolution, natural selection, DNA, and more. Featuring David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye. “The Greatest Show on Earth” is the 13th video in the Symphony of Science music videos series. Materials used in this video are from: Richard Dawkins’ “There is grandeur in this view of life” speech. BBC Life, BBC Planet Earth, David Attenborough’s First Life, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life and Bill Nye Evolution episode. 

Biology deals with the study of the many varieties of living organisms. Clockwise from top left: Salmonella typhimurium(a type of bacteria), Phascolarctos cinereus (koala), Athyrium filix-femina (common lady-fern), Amanita muscaria(fly agaric, a toxic toadstool), Agalychnis callidryas (red-eyed tree frog) and Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red-kneed Tarantula)

Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Modern biology is a vast and eclectic field, composed of many branches and subdisciplines. However, despite the broad scope of biology, there are certain general and unifying concepts within it which govern all study and research, consolidating it into single, coherent field. Biology generally recognizes the cell as the basic unit of life, genes as the basic unit of heredity, and evolution as the engine that propels the synthesis and creation of new species. It is also understood today that all organisms survive by consuming and transforming energy and by regulating their internal environment to maintain a stable and vital condition.

Subdisciplines of biology are defined by the scale at which organisms are studied, the kinds of organisms studied, and the methods used to study them: biochemistry examines the rudimentary chemistry of life; molecular biology studies the complex interactions among biological moleculesbotany studies the biology of plants; cellular biology examines the basic building block of all life, the cellphysiology examines the physical and chemical functions of tissuesorgans, and organ systems of an organism; evolutionary biology examines the processes that produced the diversity of life; and ecology examines how organisms interact in their environment.

History of biology

Ernst Haeckel‘s Tree of Life (1879)

The term biology is derived from the Greek word βίοςbios, “life” and the suffix -λογία-logia, “study of.” The Latin form of the term first appeared in 1736 when Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) used biologi in his Bibliotheca botanica. It was used again in 1766 in a work entitled Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae: tomus III, continens geologian, biologian, phytologian generalis, by Michael Christoph Hanov, a disciple of Christian Wolff. The first German use, Biologie, was used in a 1771 translation of Linnaeus’ work. In 1797, Theodor Georg August Roose used the term in a book, Grundzüge der Lehre van der Lebenskraft, in the preface. Karl Friedrich Burdach used the term in 1800 in a more restricted sense of the study of human beings from a morphological, physiological and psychological perspective (Propädeutik zum Studien der gesammten Heilkunst). The term came into its modern usage with the six-volume treatise Biologie, oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur (1802–22) by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus, who announced:

“The objects of our research will be the different forms and manifestations of life, the conditions and laws under which these phenomena occur, and the causes through which they have been effected. The science that concerns itself with these objects we will indicate by the name biology [Biologie] or the doctrine of life Lebenslehre.”

Although modern biology is a relatively recent development, sciences related to and included within it have been studied since ancient times. Natural philosophy was studied as early as the ancient civilizations of MesopotamiaEgypt, the Indian subcontinent, and China. However, the origins of modern biology and its approach to the study of nature are most often traced back to ancient Greece.  While the formal study of medicine dates back to Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC), it was Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) who contributed most extensively to the development of biology. Especially important are his History of Animals and other works where he showed naturalist leanings, and later more empirical works that focused on biological causation and the diversity of life. Aristotle’s successor at the LyceumTheophrastus, wrote a series of books on botany that survived as the most important contribution of antiquity to the plant sciences, even into the Middle Ages.

Scholars of the medieval Islamic world who wrote on biology included al-Jahiz (781–869), Al-Dinawari (828–896), who wrote on botany, and Rhazes (865–925) who wrote on anatomy and physiologyMedicine was especially well studied by Islamic scholars working in Greek philosopher traditions, while natural history drew heavily on Aristotelian thought, especially in upholding a fixed hierarchy of life.

Biology began to quickly develop and grow with Antony van Leeuwenhoek‘s dramatic improvement of the microscope. It was then that scholars discovered spermatozoabacteriainfusoria and the diversity of microscopic life. Investigations by Jan Swammerdam led to new interest in entomology and helped to develop the basic techniques of microscopic dissection andstaining.

Advances in microscopy also had a profound impact on biological thinking. In the early 19th century, a number of biologists pointed to the central importance of the cell. Then, in 1838, Schleiden and Schwann began promoting the now universal ideas that (1) the basic unit of organisms is the cell and (2) that individual cells have all the characteristics of life, although they opposed the idea that (3) all cells come from the division of other cells. Thanks to the work of Robert Remak and Rudolf Virchow, however, by the 1860s most biologists accepted all three tenets of what came to be known as cell theory.

Meanwhile, taxonomy and classification became the focus of natural historians. Carl Linnaeus published a basic taxonomy for the natural world in 1735 (variations of which have been in use ever since), and in the 1750s introduced scientific namesfor all his species.  Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, treated species as artificial categories and living forms as malleable—even suggesting the possibility of common descent. Though he was opposed to evolution, Buffon is a key figure in the history of evolutionary thought; his work influenced the evolutionary theories of both Lamarck and Darwin.

Serious evolutionary thinking originated with the works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who was the first to present a coherent theory of evolution.  He posited that evolution was the result of environmental stress on properties of animals, meaning that the more frequently and rigorously an organ was used, the more complex and efficient it would become, thus adapting the animal to its environment. Lamarck believed that these acquired traits could then be passed on to the animal’s offspring, who would further develop and perfect them.  However, it was the British naturalist Charles Darwin, combining the biogeographical approach of Humboldt, the uniformitarian geology of LyellMalthus’s writings on population growth, and his own morphological expertise and extensive natural observations, who forged a more successful evolutionary theory based on natural selection; similar reasoning and evidence led Alfred Russel Wallace to independently reach the same conclusions.  Although it was the subject of controversy (which continues to this day), Darwin’s theory quickly spread through the scientific community and soon became a central axiom of the rapidly developing science of biology.

The discovery of the physical representation of heredity came along with evolutionary principles and population genetics. In the 1940s and early 1950s, experiments pointed to DNA as the component of chromosomes that held the trait-carrying units that had become known as genes. A focus on new kinds of model organisms such as viruses and bacteria, along with the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA in 1953, marked the transition to the era of molecular genetics. From the 1950s to present times, biology has been vastly extended in the molecular domain. The genetic code was cracked by Har Gobind KhoranaRobert W. Holley and Marshall Warren Nirenberg after DNA was understood to contain codons. Finally, the Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 with the goal of mapping the general human genome. This project was essentially completed in 2003, with further analysis still being published. The Human Genome Project was the first step in a globalized effort to incorporate accumulated knowledge of biology into a functional, molecular definition of the human body and the bodies of other organisms.

Foundations of modern biology – Cell theory

Cell theory states that the cell is the fundamental unit of life, and that all living things are composed of one or more cells or the secreted products of those cells (e.g. shells). All cells arise from other cells through cell division. In multicellular organisms, every cell in the organism’s body derives ultimately from a single cell in a fertilized egg. The cell is also considered to be the basic unit in many pathological processes.  Additionally, the phenomenon of energy flow occurs in cells in processes that are part of the function known as metabolism. Finally, cells contain hereditary information (DNA) which is passed from cell to cell during cell division.

Evolution

Natural selection of a population for dark coloration. Evolution

A central organizing concept in biology is that life changes and develops through evolution, and that all life-forms known have a common origin. The theory of evolution postulates that all organisms on the Earth, both living and extinct, have descended from a common ancestor or an ancestral gene pool. This last universal common ancestor of all organisms is believed to have appeared about 3.5 billion years ago.  Biologists generally regard the universality and ubiquity of the genetic code as definitive evidence in favor of the theory of universal common descent for all bacteria,archaea, and eukaryotes (see: origin of life).

Introduced into the scientific lexicon by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck in 1809, evolution was established by Charles Darwin fifty years later as a viable scientific model when he articulated its driving force:natural selection.  (Alfred Russel Wallace is recognized as the co-discoverer of this concept as he helped research and experiment with the concept of evolution.) Evolution is now used to explain the great variations of life found on Earth.

Darwin theorized that species and breeds developed through the processes of natural selection and artificial selection or selective breeding.  Genetic drift was embraced as an additional mechanism of evolutionary development in the modern synthesis of the theory.

The evolutionary history of the species—which describes the characteristics of the various species from which it descended—together with its genealogical relationship to every other species is known as its phylogeny. Widely varied approaches to biology generate information about phylogeny. These include the comparisons of DNA sequences conducted within molecular biology or genomics, and comparisons of fossils or other records of ancient organisms in paleontology.  Biologists organize and analyze evolutionary relationships through various methods, including phylogeneticsphenetics, and cladistics. (For a summary of major events in the evolution of life as currently understood by biologists, see evolutionary timeline.)

Punnett square depicting a cross between two pea plants heterozygous for purple (B) and white (b) blossoms

Genetics

Genes are the primary units of inheritance in all organisms. A gene is a unit of heredity and corresponds to a region of DNA that influences the form or function of an organism in specific ways. All organisms, from bacteria to animals, share the same basic machinery that copies and translates DNA into proteins. Cells transcribe a DNA gene into an RNA version of the gene, and a ribosome then translates the RNA into a protein, a sequence of amino acids. The translation code from RNA codon to amino acid is the same for most organisms, but slightly different for some. For example, a sequence of DNA that codes for insulin in humans also codes for insulin when inserted into other organisms, such as plants.

DNA usually occurs as linear chromosomes in eukaryotes, and circular chromosomes in prokaryotes. A chromosome is an organized structure consisting of DNA and histones. The set of chromosomes in a cell and any other hereditary information found in the mitochondriachloroplasts, or other locations is collectively known as its genome. In eukaryotes, genomic DNA is located in the cell nucleus, along with small amounts in mitochondria and chloroplasts. In prokaryotes, the DNA is held within an irregularly shaped body in the cytoplasm called the nucleoid.  The genetic information in a genome is held within genes, and the complete assemblage of this information in an organism is called its genotype.

Homeostasis

The hypothalamus secretes CRH, which directs the pituitary gland to secrete ACTH. In turn, ACTH directs the adrenal cortex to secrete glucocorticoids, such as cortisol. The GCs then reduce the rate of secretion by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland once a sufficient amount of GCs has been released.

Homeostasis is the ability of an open system to regulate its internal environment to maintain stable conditions by means of multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustments controlled by interrelated regulation mechanisms. All living organisms, whether unicellular or multicellular, exhibit homeostasis.

To maintain dynamic equilibrium and effectively carry out certain functions, a system must detect and respond to perturbations. After the detection of a perturbation, a biological system normally responds through negative feedback. This means stabilizing conditions by either reducing or increasing the activity of an organ or system. One example is the release of glucagon when sugar levels are too low.

Basic overview of energy and human life.

Energy

The survival of a living organism depends on the continuous input of energy. Chemical reactions that are responsible for its structure and function are tuned to extract energy from substances that act as its food and transform them to help form new cells and sustain them. In this process, molecules of chemical substances that constitute food play two roles; first, they contain energy that can be transformed for biological chemical reactions; second, they develop new molecular structures made up of biomolecules.

The organisms responsible for the introduction of energy into an ecosystem are known as producers or autotrophs. Nearly all of these organisms originally draw energy from the sun.  Plants and other phototrophs use solar energy via a process known as photosynthesis to convert raw materials into organic molecules, such as ATP, whose bonds can be broken to release energy.  A few ecosystems, however, depend entirely on energy extracted by chemotrophs from methane,sulfides, or other non-luminal energy sources.

Some of the captured energy is used to produce biomass to sustain life and provide energy for growth and development. The majority of the rest of this energy is lost as heat and waste molecules. The most important processes for converting the energy trapped in chemical substances into energy useful to sustain life are metabolism and cellular respiration.

Study and research – Structural: Molecular biologyCell biologyGenetics, and Developmental biology

Schematic of typical animal cell depicting the various organelles and structures.

Molecular biology is the study of biology at a molecular level.  This field overlaps with other areas of biology, particularly with genetics and biochemistry. Molecular biology chiefly concerns itself with understanding the interactions between the various systems of a cell, including the interrelationship of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis and learning how these interactions are regulated.

Cell biology studies the structural and physiological properties of cells, including their behaviors, interactions, and environment. This is done on both the microscopic and molecular levels, for single-celled organisms such as bacteria as well as the specialized cells in multicellular organisms such as humans. Understanding the structure and function of cells is fundamental to all of the biological sciences. The similarities and differences between cell types are particularly relevant to molecular biology.

Anatomy considers the forms of macroscopic structures such as organs and organ systems.

Genetics is the science of genesheredity, and the variation of organisms.  Genes encode the information necessary for synthesizing proteins, which in turn play a central role in influencing the final phenotype of the organism. In modern research, genetics provides important tools in the investigation of the function of a particular gene, or the analysis of genetic interactions. Within organisms, genetic information generally is carried in chromosomes, where it is represented in the chemical structure of particular DNA molecules.

Developmental biology studies the process by which organisms grow and develop. Originating in embryology, modern developmental biology studies the genetic control of cell growthdifferentiation, and “morphogenesis,” which is the process that progressively gives rise to tissuesorgans, and anatomyModel organisms for developmental biology include the round worm Caenorhabditis elegansthe fruit fly Drosophila melanogasterthe zebrafish Danio reriothe mouse Mus musculus,, and the weed Arabidopsis thaliana.  (A model organism is a species that is extensively studied to understand particular biological phenomena, with the expectation that discoveries made in that organism provide insight into the workings of other organisms.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology

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