Biology is the science of life. It is concerned with the physical characteristics and behaviors of organisms alive today and long ago, how they come into being, and what interactions they have with each other and their environments.
The word biology in its modern sense seems to have been introduced independently by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur, 1802) and by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Hydrogéologie, 1802). The word itself is sometimes said to have been coined in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Burdach, but it appears in the title of Volume 3 of Michael Christoph Hanov's Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae: Geologia, biologia, phytologia generalis et dendrologia, published in 1766. Today the term encompasses a broad spectrum of academic fields that are often viewed as independent disciplines.
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Biologists study life over a wide range of scales:
Fields of study in biologyAerobiology -- Anatomy -- Astrobiology -- Biochemistry -- Bionics -- Biogeography -- Bioinformatics -- Biophysics-- Biotechnology -- Botany -- Cell biology -- Cladistics -- Cryptozoology -- Developmental biology -- Disease (Genetic diseases) -- Ecology (Theoretical ecology, Autecology, Synecology) -- Ethology -- Genetics (Population genetics, Quantitative genetics, Genomics, Proteomics) -- Ichthyology -- Immunology -- Pathology -- Epidemiology -- Limnology -- Malacology -- Marine biology -- Microbiology (Bacteriology) -- Molecular Biology -- Mycology / Lichenology --- Neuroscience (Neuroanatomy, Biological psychology, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Behavioral science, Computational neuroscience, Cognitive science)-- Oncology (the study of cancer) -- Ontogeny -- Paleontology -- Phycology (Algology) -- Phylogeny, Phylogeography) -- Physiology -- Structural biology -- Taxonomy -- Toxicology (the study of poisons and pollution) -- Xenobiology -- Zoology
Related disciplinesPhysical anthropology
People and historyHistory of biology -- Nobel prize in physiology or medicine -- Timeline of biology and organic chemistry
One of the central, organizing concepts in biology is that all life has descended from a common origin through a process of evolution. Charles Darwin articulated the concept of evolution that remains central to this day, which he did by proposing natural selection as a mechanism. Genetic drift was embraced as an additional mechanism in the so-called modern synthesis. The evolutionary history of a species--which tells the characteristics of the species from which it descended--and its relationship to other species is called 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 phylogenetics, phenetics, and cladistics.
The classification of living things is called systematics, or taxonomy, and should reflect the evolutionary trees (phylogenetic trees) of the different organisms. Taxonomy piles up organisms in groups called taxa, while systematics seeks their relationships. The dominant system is called Linnaean taxonomy, which includes ranks and binomial nomenclature. How organisms are named is governed by international agreements such as the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), and the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria (ICNB). A fourth Draft BioCode was published in 1997 in an attempt to standardize naming in the three areas, but it does not appear to have yet been formally adopted. The International Code of Virus Classification and Nomenclature (ICVCN) remains outside the BioCode.
Traditionally, living things were divided into five kingdoms:
However, this five-kingdom system is now considered by many to be outdated. More modern alternatives generally begin with the three-domain system:
These domains reflect whether cells have nuclei or not as well as differences in cell exteriors.
There is also a series of intracellular "parasites" that are progressively less alive in terms of being metabolically active: