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Laurel Popov
Laurel Popov

Encyclopedia Of Biology ##BEST##



One reason for the diversity of biology comes from the staggering diversity of organisms that can be considered living. These range from viruses, bacteria, and fungi to plants and animals, including humans. Another reason is that life can be studied on various levels in a hierarchy that ranges from the organic-macromolecular level to genes, cells, tissues, organs, and entire organisms. Furthermore, organisms interact in, and can be organized into, families, communities, societies, species, populations, biomes or biota, and perhaps even the global systems (as in the controversial Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the earth itself is a living organism). To a large extent, biological subdisciplines are organized around each of these levels of activity or organization. Thus, for example, cellular biology, or cytology (coming from the Greek word cyto for cell), deals specifically with the study of cells, while ecology (coming from the Greek word oikos for habitat) deals with interactions between populations, species, communities, and biomes and the processes that sustain them. Since biology deals immediately with living organisms and processes, it has a large applied component. It touches on medical and health-related areas, pharmacy, agriculture, forestry, and biological oceanography. In contemporary society, the promises and problems associated with applications of biology are staggering. They range from stem-cell research, the development and use of genetically modified organisms, and the use of biological tools as identity markers (as in DNA "fingerprinting") to the possibility of designer babies and human cloning. Whereas the physical sciences and their applications dominated science for much of the history of science, the biological sciences now dominate both popular and scientific discussions, especially after the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. Viewing the revolution precipitated by the applications of biology to society at the closing of the twentieth century, many commentators anticipate that the new century will be the century of biology.




Encyclopedia of Biology


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After World War II, biology boomed, and with it emerged new societies and institutions to organize the growing science. In 1947 the first umbrella organization for the biological sciences, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, was created in the United States. Other institutions, such as the National Science Foundation in the United States, established large divisions (and budgets) to fund research in the biological sciences. Both trends helped shape the direction and character of subsequent biological research. As with many other sciences in the postwar period, the dominant site of activity in the biological sciences had shifted from its older European centers in Germany, France, and England to the United States. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite drove a panicked U.S. government to offer even stronger support of scientific research. The biological sciences, too, benefited from this turn of events and received generous funding for research and biological instruction. Textbooks such as the popular Biological Sciences Curriculum Study drew on a virtual industry of biologists and educators to produce a series of widely read and influential textbooks for American high school students. Research in the United States continued at specialized research centers such as that at Cold Spring Harbor (in 2004 a center for molecular biology) and more traditional research settings including public and private universities, land-grant colleges, hospitals and medical centers, museums and gardens. In university education, biology as a subject area is considered so vital that it has become a requirement for general education programs. It is rapidly becoming one of the most popular majors for university students not just in the United States but worldwide.


In 1961 the evolutionary biologist, historian, and philosopher Ernst Mayr, reflecting on some of these growing differences between biologists, provocatively suggested that biology in fact comprises two sciences. The first is a biology based on proximate causes that answers questions of function (molecular biology, biochemistry, and physiology). The second is a biology based on ultimate causes that seeks historical explanation (evolutionary biology, systematics, and the larger discipline of organismic biology). While the biology of proximate causes is reductionistic and physicalist, the biology of ultimate causes is historical and is characterized by emergent properties. Much of Mayr's reflections on the structure of the biological sciences has formed the backbone of the history and philosophy of biology and has made its way into some textbooks in the biological sciences. While vitalism is no longer tenable in biology, there is considerable support for the belief that complex properties emerge from simpler strata in biology and for the idea that such emergent properties are useful in explaining life.


Magner, Lois N. A History of the Life Sciences. 2nd ed. New York, 1994. Places early modern developments within the larger history of biology from the ancients to the era of genetics and molecular biology.


Biology is the scientific study of the processes of life. Biology gradually came into existence as a coherent field of study in the nineteenth century. It combined into a single field what had previously been called natural history and natural philosophy as well as elements of medicine, zoology, physiology, botany, chemistry, and pharmacology. Biology is an empirical, experimental science, which means that hypotheses made about the character and functioning of life processes are proven through repeatable experiment. Because biology is the science of life processes and reproduction is considered one of the key processes that defines life itself, biology has always been bound up with issues of sex and reproduction. Although biology is an empirical science, it has also long reflected cultural attitudes about sex and gender, both as foundational concepts for theories of life and as categories to be questioned and investigated. In its development of new theories about reproduction, physiology, behavior, and heredity, biology continues to grapple with understandings of sex and gender as well as the ways biological science has produced itself around and through gender and sexual difference.


As with all sciences, biology is affected by cultural ideas and preconceptions. For example, the kinds of phenomena scientists choose to examine are sometimes defined by their ideas of what phenomena are important, which is in turn influenced by assumptions about the relative centrality of males and females. Twentieth-century investigations of heart disease, for example, focused on males, not only because males were believed to be more afflicted by heart disease, but also because females were still assumed to be lesser versions of males. Studies of reproduction in females lagged behind understandings of male contributions. Only by the late twentieth century did scientists begin to undertake more systematic studies of major diseases specifically in women, acknowledging the differences between female and male biology and physiology. The understanding that some processes and diseases are specific to females or males has also enabled a wider recognition of male-specific disorders, such as prostate problems.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is credited with establishing the importance of observation and analysis as the basic approach for scientific investigation. By AD 200, studies in biology were centered in the Arab world. Most of the investigations during this period were made in medicine and agriculture. Arab scientists continued this activity throughout the Middle Ages.


From the nineteenth century until the present, the amount of research and discovery in biology has been voluminous. Two fields of rapid growth in biological science today are molecular biology and genetic engineering.


Biology is composed of many fields, including microbiology, the study of microscopic organisms such as viruses and bacteria; cytology, the study of cells; embryology, the study of development; genetics, the study of heredity; biochemistry, the study of the chemical structures in living things; morphology, the study of the anatomy of plants and animals; taxonomy, the identification, naming, and classification of organisms; and physiology, the study of how organic systems function and respond to stimulation. Biology often interacts with other sciences, such as psychology. For example, animal behaviorists would need to understand the biological nature of the animal they are studying in order to evaluate a particular animal's behavior.


From the nineteenth century until the end of the twentieth century, the amount of research and discovery in biology has been tremendous. Two fields of rapid growth in biological science today are molecular biology and genetic engineering.


What role do computers play in the study of biology? Most people understand that computers produce spreadsheets, help analyze data, graph results of experiments, and prepare final reports for presentations. Although computersare workhorses in these areas, computers and the Internet are considered vital in other ways to many different fields of biology and research. In some cases, computer science and biology (along with chemistry, physics, and mathematics) are woven so tightly together they have become inseparable.


The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, is another U.S. agency that extensively uses computers and the Internet in its collection and application of biological information. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a subdivision of the NIH, maintains expansive databases on their computers, including known gene sequences, for molecular biology researchers all over the world. The largest biomedical research facility in the world, the NIH is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. 041b061a72


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