People often define themselves as what type of student they are using a left or right brain approach. In other words, they either think of themselves as having logic and information based interests or artistic and humanities related ones. Fortunately, when studying a polarizing subject like general biology, there are many ways you can become more involved in the subject you may either love or despise.
Biological functions form a part of our daily lives, which includes everything from the bioinformatics that go into making your medicine to the cellular biology that go into enhancing your sports performance. Understanding the evolution of the field of biology, and the terms that make it up, can help you in your studies and in life.
What do Biologists Do?
Biologists tend to draw up images of clinical looking people experimenting and examining objects in a laboratory. While research is an important component for biology professionals and undergraduates alike, the field extends to cover a vast network of interdisciplinary and dynamic subjects.
In its essence, biology is the study of living organisms, and therefore the only prerequisites to start studying biology is a knack of observation and an interest in the world around us. If you’re interested in understanding the structure and framework of the discipline of biology, from informing policies to computational science, it is necessary to understand what exactly biologists do.
There are three main recognized branches of biology, which are botany, zoology and microbiology. If you are studying biology or want to understand the types of jobs in biology that are available, start defining these three branches.
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Three Main Branches of Biology:
As with any science, the field of biology can be traced back to the beginning of the history of humans. While ancient myths are considered more for their literary and historical value today, they typify the truly scientific method of observing natural phenomena and creating narratives to fit them. The earliest biological records can be traced back to the Assyrians and Babylonians. In fact, carvings illustrating concepts such as the reproduction of plants and veterinary medicine trace back to 1800 BCE. If that’s not impressive enough, details of date harvesting extend as far back as 3500 BCE.
Egyptian biological knowledge recorded on papyri and artefacts includes information about everything from the correct embalming practices to the science of creating jewellery out of plants. The Ebers papyrus, containing remedies for asthma, was written in 16th century BCE and is considered as one of the earliest known medical texts. This knowledge is also the earliest known record of concepts in the field of botany.
Focusing on ancient China, emperors were seen to be the keepers of biological knowledge, and descriptions of medicinal plants date back to 2700 BCE. Chinese biology from antiquity also includes information about insects, most notably having used the silkworm to produce silk.
Also interested in understanding agriculture, Indian biological pursuits focused on understanding produce like dates, melon and barley. Written texts on subjects like pathology and obstetrics date as far back as the 6th century BCE.
Some of the subjects that you can study in biology that are under the branch of botany include:
- Morphology (Anatomy, Histology, Cytology)
- Biochemistry and Biophysics
Moving from the plant kingdom to focus on the animal kingdom, zoology is the branch of biology that deals with understanding animals on a cellular level, as well as their relationships to the animals and environment around them. As with botany, the history of zoology starts with sustenance. In other words, improvements in hunting, as well as domestication, required extensive and accurate knowledge over a diverse community of animals and their relationship to each other.
Aristotle is credited with inventing the approach to zoology that would reign until the Middle Ages. This methodology included studying animals and function of their bodies with a systematic and descriptive mindset. Aristotle’s approach was reformed by Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century with Linnaeus’ invention of a nomenclature system in which all animals were classified in relation to each other.
The 19th century saw the integration of cellular inquiries into the domain of animals. Georges Cuvier is credited with some of the first, comprehensive works on comparing animals by their anatomy. Cell theory, of course, caused advancements in the fields of developmental biology and embryology.
The theory of evolution was another milestone that occurred int eh 19th century, where it marked a paradigm shift in the field of zoology, rejecting the traditional view that every known species were unique. Combining the principles of heredity formed by Mendel, Darwin postulated that organisms evolve over time by a process of rejecting and accepting useless or beneficial characteristics respectively. This concept, known as natural selection, formed the backbone to his argument and was, of course, a response to the work of his predecessors. This concept would later effect many fields within the biological sciences such as ecology and environmental microbiology.
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The 20th and 21st century saw a shift towards solving the world’s biological problems, concerning itself less with classification efforts and more with conservation. Today, the branch of zoology hosts a diverse array of fields of study, including:
- Animal Physiology
- Developmental Biology
- Evolutionism or Evolution
- Evolutionary biology
- Conservation Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Biology
- Ecology or Ecology and Evolution
The third branch of biology is called microbiology and concerns itself with the study of microorganisms. Microorganisms are simple life forms including bacteria and fungi. Understanding, describing and testing their structures and functions have helped many of humans’ most urgent problems. Organismal biology is the youngest out of the three main branches of the discipline, dating back to the 17th century.
Antoine van Leeuwenhoek is credited as having produced the first works on microorganisms, having drawn and observed everything from the bacteria and protozoans of animals. His works, published through the British Royal Society, caused experiments of the same kind.
One landmark of 19th-century microbiology included a concept that continues to play a role in our daily lives: a process called pasteurization. Pasteur, striving to understand more about bacteria, managed to produce in the process a method of treating items with high heat in order to eliminate pathogens. Robert Koch, a contemporary of Pasteur, is also noted to have developed at the time work relating to diseases stemming from specific microorganisms.
What made microbiology such a young field was its dependence on advancements in technology. However, the 20th and 21st centuries have seen the implementation and amelioration of examining and testing micro-organisms with the help of computer technology. Biochemistry and genetics have helped not only further the knowledge we have about simple life forms, but have also aided in getting rid of and finding cures for infectious diseases. Important metabolic and nutritional information has also been discovered because of advancements in technology. Fields that are considered to be covered in this branch of biology are:
- General Microbiology
- Genetics or Biology Genetics
To learn more about microbiology, start by checking out the careers and possible degrees in the area.
Basic Biological Concepts
Whether you are performing laboratory work, studying an undergraduate degree, or simply struggling through high school biology – understanding and refreshing your knowledge on basic biological concepts can be extremely useful. The diversity of subjects under biology can be a bit intimidating, including everything from involving general chemistry concepts to requiring mathematical skills. Here, we examine the basic concepts of each branch of biology and their definitions.
Cell biology is an integral part in understanding botany. All living organisms, including plants, are made up of cells. Here are some of the terms you should understand if you are studying botany related subjects.
Nucleus: structure found in most cells, except bacteria and some algae, that specializes in controlling and regulating the activities of the cell. Furthermore, it is where hereditary information, or genes, are located
Meiosis: this is the process under which a germ cell divides its nucleus to form four sex cells, or gametes. Each gamete contains only half the amount of chromosomes as the original, parent cell.
Cell division: the process under which cells reproduce, namely mitosis and meiosis.
Phytotron: a special type of greenhouse utilized for studying plants and their environment
Molecule: a group of bonded atoms that form the smallest unit of a chemical compound, important for understanding plants’ molecular processes.
Zoology forms a major part of biological studies, including knowledge over the make-up and behavior of animals. Some important terms to understand under this branch are:
Selective breeding: the process by which parents are chosen to breed based off of particular characteristics with the aim of producing more desirable offspring.
Heritable components: heritability is a statistic that involves a proportion of phenotypic variance that is attributed to genetic variance
In microbiology, there are many definitions one can encounter. However, the most important concepts to understand are the eight microorganisms that one can study.
- Bacteria (eubacteria, archaea)
- Slime Molds
If you're interested in learning how these concepts affect fields dealing with aquatic animals, check out marine biology!
Find out more about a future career in biology.
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