The Science of Biology

Photo A depicts round colonies of blue-green algae. Each algae cell is about 5 microns across.
Photo B depicts round fossil structures called stromatalites along a watery shoreline.
Formerly called blue-green algae, these (a) cyanobacteria, magnified 300x under a light microscope, are some of Earth’s oldest life forms. These (b) stromatolites along the shores of Lake Thetis in Western Australia are ancient structures formed by layering cyanobacteria in shallow waters. (credit a: modification of work by NASA; credit b: modification of work by Ruth Ellison; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

What is biology? In simple terms, biology is the study of living organisms and their interactions with one another and their environments. This is a very broad definition because the scope of biology is vast. Biologists may study anything from the microscopic or submicroscopic view of a cell to ecosystems and the whole living planet (Figure). Listening to the daily news, you will quickly realize how many aspects of biology we discuss every day. For example, recent news topics include Escherichia coli (Figure) outbreaks in spinach and Salmonella contamination in peanut butter. Other subjects include efforts toward finding a cure for AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. On a global scale, many researchers are committed to finding ways to protect the planet, solve environmental issues, and reduce the effects of climate change. All of these diverse endeavors are related to different facets of the discipline of biology.

Photo depicts E. coli bacteria aggregated together.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, in this scanning electron micrograph, are normal residents of our digestive tracts that aid in absorbing vitamin K and other nutrients. However, virulent strains are sometimes responsible for disease outbreaks. (credit: Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU)
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