Let’s Start from the basics : What is Biology?

Scientists investigate natural events to try to find out exactly why and how they happen. To arrive at an answer, they need conclusive evidence that a certain factor causes the event. Very often, this kind of evidence can only be obtained by carrying out experiments. You will learn how to proceed from identifying the problem to planning and carrying out an investigation in such a way that the results will enable you to conclude that the factor you are investigating does (or does not) cause the event to happen. Along the way, you will see how some of the greatest biologists have used this scientific method in their investigations. You will also learn how to write a report on a scientific investigation in such a way that scientists all over the world would be able to instantly recognize the stages in your investigation and carry it out for themselves if they wanted to check your results.

Biology is the science of life and living organisms. You know from earlier studies that an organism is a living being made from one cell (for example bacteria, unicellular algae) or many cells (for example, animals, plants and most fungi). When we think of biologists, we often have quite a narrow view of what they do. But, just as all chemists don’t wear white coats, all biologists don’t look down microscopes in laboratories. Here are just a few of the areas of biological study. Some biologists become astrobiology. These biologists engage in all kinds of research to try to find evidence of life on other planets in our Solar System and in galaxies elsewhere in the Universe. Other biologists take part in biomedical research. These biologists help in many areas, including the development of new drugs and vaccines. Thy also study the ways in which diseases develop to gain a better understanding of them so that cures can be found.

The word biology is derived
from two Greek words:
bios – meaning ‘life’ and
logos – meaning ‘study’

Others still become microbiologists. These biologists study how micro-organisms of all kinds function. Some micro-organisms cause disease, and understanding how they work makes a treatment more likely. Many microbiologists are studying the human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) to get a better understanding of how AIDS develops and how it can be treated. Paleo-biology is a fascinating area of study to many people. Paleo-biologists try to find out more about the way in which life began on Earth and how it has evolved from simple life forms into more complex ones. Thy use evidence from fossils and from studies of the chemistry of ancient rocks to make estimates of when and how new life forms appeared on the planet. Many different biologists are involved in the Human Genome Project. This enormous project has produced the fist ever map of the 46 chromosomes found in human cells. It has located the tens of thousands of genes and has determined the exact structure of each chromosome. Although the ‘map’ is finished, there is still much to be found out. Analysis will continue for many years to come. Besides these biologists, there are others who are, perhaps, more recognizable. These include: doctors, dentists, veterinary surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists, botanists, zoologists, physiologists, biochemists, agricultural biologists, ecologists, ethologists, entomologists, geneticists, oncologists, neurologists, parasitologists . . . . . . and many, many others besides.

Gregor Mendel was a monk and so not obviously ‘a scientist’. He was puzzled by the patterns of certain features in the offspring of mice and pea plants. He carried out many carefully controlled breeding experiments with pea plants and, by
analyzing his results thoroughly, he was able to form the basic laws of how genes are inherited. Isaac Newton is famous the world over because an apple falling
on his head gave him an idea. Why did the apple fall towards the earth and not travel away from the earth into space? After some considerable thought and work, Newton worked out the basic laws of gravitation that apply to all particles and bodies anywhere in the Universe. Naturally, he couldn’t test this easily
by experiment!

Both of these men are ranked as great scientists, yet the work they did seems to be very different. So what is it that allows us to call them scientists? What is science? Write a short paragraph to explain why we would consider
Mendel and Newton to be scientists.

Science is an ongoing effort to find new information and principles which can increase human knowledge and understanding. In their research, scientists collect evidence that supports or disproves a particular suggested explanation of a natural phenomenon. One important idea in science is that any suggested explanation of a phenomenon should be capable of being proved wrong. If there is no way of proving it wrong, how can other people accept that it is correct? This is what distinguishes science from religious beliefs.

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