Chapter   1 - Concepts and Methods in Biology

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BIOLOGY - The scientific study of life


Characteristics of Life from Risk Hershberger, the Bioactive Site

  1. Nothing Lives Without DNA
    1. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) - molecule unique to living organisms  
      1. Contains instructions for assembling new cells and/or organisms and for utilizing matter plus energy
      2. Agent of heredity.
      3. Reproduction: life comes only from life; maintains the species
      4. Growth and Development (Fig. 1.3).
  2. Nothing Lives Without Energy
    1. Acquisition of Material and Energy
      1. Metabolism
        1. Photosynthesis 
        2. Cellular Respiration
    2. Living Things Respond
      1. Receptors
      2. Movement
      3. Homeostasis 
  3. Organization-link to M.J. Farabee, the On-Line Biology Book [Figure 1.5]
    1. Atom - Molecule - Cell - Tissue - Organ - Organism - Population - Community - Ecosystem - Biosphere
    2. Life's Hierarchy from the MIT Hypertextbook
    3. cell - basic unit of life
    4. Ecological organization
      1. population: individuals of one species in a particular area
      2. community: associations of populations (100's-1000's) of species in same area
      3. ecosystem: community plus non-living environment; major natural communities
      4. biosphere: planet Earth - largest ecosystem
    5. Emergent Properties
      1. Properties that emerge as a result of interactions between components. 
        1. New properties emerge with each step up the hierarchy of life's organization.
      2. Emergent properties are characteristic of life and include characteristics such as response to stimuli, homeostasis, heredity, growth, development, etc.
      3. Holism is the principle that a higher level of order cannot be meaningfully explained by looking at the component parts in isolation.
    6. Reductionism is the opposite of holism, the complex can be explained by understanding its components. 
  4. Interdependency among Organisms
    1. Energy flow --> trophic interactions [fig. 1-6]
      1. sunlight, producers, consumers, decomposers, inorganic nutrients
      2. one way flow of energy
      3. recycling of nutrients
  5. Life's Diversity
    1. Linnaean Taxonomic Hierarchy
    2. Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778)
      1. hierarchical system: hierarchy of taxonomic ranks 
        • domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species
        • see this page on classification by Stephen Abedon for some interesting mnemonics
      2. binomial nomenclature
    3. more on classification from the University of Minnesota, General Zoology
    4. biological species concept

Three Domains: Eubacteria, Archaea, Eukarya  

SIX Kingdoms [Fig. 1.7]




prokaryotes with distinctive cell walls extremophiles


prokaryotes with distinctive cell walls Bacteria


Large, complex cell Protozoans, Algae


Multicellular, specialized, absorb Molds, Mushrooms


Multicellular, specialized, photosynthesize Mosses - Trees


Multicellular, specialized, ingest Insects - Fishes


  1. Living Things Reproduce and Develop
    1. Reproduction - Life generating life by making copy similar to self
    2. Heredity - Factors passed on when an organism reproduces
    3. Genes - contain blueprint (DNA) for an organism's organization and metabolism
    4. Mutation - a change in DNA that can be inherited
    5. Inheritance
  2. Living Things Have Adaptations
    1. Adaptation
    2. Biston betularia [Figure 1.7] and industrial melanism
      1. observations and experiments
      2. There are some problems with Kettlewell's explanation.  Moths have not been observed resting on limbs.  In his experiment Kettlewell placed moths on limbs.
      3. However, industrial melanism has been observed on different continents and Kettlewell's hypothesis explaining it does agree with the experiments.
      4. Use the CD-rom that comes with the book and see what happens when you try to eat light and dark moths against  different experiments.
    3. Evolution - Change in characteristics of organisms over time
      Evolution is the unifying concept of biology

Evidence of Evolution

  1. Biogeography  
  2. Paleontology
    1. Fossils 
    2. History of the Earth (Table 1.1)
      1. Geologic Time from the USGS
      2. Geologic Time Scale from the UCMP
  3. Comparative Anatomy
    1. homology
    2. convergent evolution
      1. analogous structures  
    3. vestigial structures
  4. Molecular Biology
  1. Darwin used artificial selection [fig. 1.7] as a model for natural selection
  2. natural selection 1859: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace
    1. all individuals vary
    2. most variation is heritable
    3. some traits increase adaptation
    4. competition for limited resources
    5. better adapted are more likely to survive and reproduce (excess reproductive capacity and differential reproduction)
    6. selection
    7. change in frequencies of genes
    8. over time, evolution of new species, etc.



  1. Scientific Method - Approach for gathering information  (Fig. 1.11)
    1. Data - Factual (objective) information collected about the natural world
    2. Hypothesis - tentative explanation, consistent with known facts, testable, simpler than competing hypotheses
    3. Theories - scientifically accepted general principles, well supported by many tests, powerful 
    4. Principle or Law: predictions are unvaryingly uniform
    5. prediction: a statement of what one should observe in nature if one looks (the if-then process)
    6. testing: conducting a scientific experiment
    7. Controlled Experiment
    8. controls

    Elements of Experiment:

    1. Hold all conditions constant except the one being tested (independent or experimental variable, e.g., length of day in a 24 hour period)
    2. Deliberately vary the condition to test  (all other variables are held constant)
    3. Observe the result of any change that occurs in the dependent variable due to varying the experimental variable.   (the dependent variable is the parameter measured to determine the result or change that   results from varying the experimental variable)
    4. Use a control group to compare against tested group
      1. placebo: control in drug experiments to rule out other effects
      2. double-blind: to eliminate any influence of the people doing the experiment.
    5. Differences in results between the control and the experimental group are the result of the independent variable being tested.



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