Biology is, quite simply, the scientific exploration and study of life. At the highest level, it includes categories based on the type of organism studied: zoology, botany, and microbiology. Each field has contributed to humanity in numerous ways such as improvements in agriculture, greater understanding of livestock and ecological systems, and the study of diseases. Modern biological studies largely center on the concepts of cell theory, evolution, gene theory, and homeostasis.
Three Major Categories
There are three major categories of study within biology, each related to a different type of life form. Zoology is the study of animals and includes just about anything from insects and fish to birds and human beings. Botany, on the other hand, focuses on plants of all types and sizes, including underwater forests, fungi, and trees. Microbiology is the study of microorganisms too small to be plainly seen and which escape categorization in the other two fields, such as viruses.
Besides classifications based on the type of organism being studied, biology contains many other specialized sub-disciplines, which may focus on just one type of organism or consider life from different categories. This includes biochemistry, which combines biological and chemical studies, and molecular biology, which looks at life on the molecular level. Cellular biology studies different types of cells and how they work, while physiology looks at organisms at the level of tissue and organs. Experts in ecology study the interactions between various organisms themselves within an environment, and those in ethology study the behavior of animals, especially complex animals in groups. Genetics, which overlaps somewhat with molecular studies, looks at the code of life, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA).
Four Major Foundations of Study
The foundations of modern biology include four components beginning with cell theory, which states that fundamental units called cells make up all life. Evolution is the theory that life is not deliberately designed, but evolves incrementally over a great deal of time through random mutations and natural selection. Gene theory states that tiny molecular sequences of DNA dictate the entire structure of an organism, which pass from parents to offspring. Finally, homeostasis is the idea that each organism’s body includes a complex suite of processes designed to remain in harmony and preserve it against the entropic or destructive effects outside of the organism.
20th Century Developments
Much of the modern approach to biology started with the use of x-ray crystallography in the 1950s to capture a concrete image of DNA. Since then, there have been numerous refinements to the theories put forth, since life is complex and new information is almost constantly being discovered. In the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, a great deal of excitement centered on the sequencing of genomes and their comparison, called genomics. These advances have led to the creation of organisms or living tissue through custom-written DNA programming, called synthetic biology. Such fields are sure to continue grabbing attention as new developments push the limits of what is possible.