Biology (from the Greek bios, meaning "life") is the scientific study of all forms of life, including plants, animals, and microorganisms.
The word “biology” has its etymological roots in Greek, as “bios” means “life.” Biology is the scientific study of all life, including humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms.
Since it is such a vast term, biology is broken down into many fields. Microbiologists study viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Cytologists study cells. Embryologists research issues related to development. Geneticists investigate heredity. Biochemists study the chemical structures of living organisms. Morphologists study the anatomy of plants and animals. Taxonomists identify, name, and classify organisms. Physiologists study how organic system function and respond to stimulation. The work that biologists do often combines its findings with other disciplines. Geneticists, for example, can sometimes offer a biological explanation for human behavior or conditions, for example, there has been work linking obesity to genetics.
Biology has a long history, beginning with the Greek philosopher Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. Aristotle emphasized that observation and analysis were the critical first steps to scientific inquiry.
It was Aristotle who organized the basic principles of classification, the principles of dividing and subdividing plants and animals. The Arab world was studying biology by 200 A.D; their scientists focused most of their efforts on medicine and agriculture. They continued this important work throughout the Middle Ages.
Here are several terms within the fields of biology with which you should be aware:
Classification: The system of arranging plants and animals in groups according to their similarities.
Genetic engineering: Altering hereditary material (by a scientist in a lab) by interfering in the natural genetic process.
Germ theory of disease: The belief that disease is caused by germs.
Microorganism: An organism that cannot be seen without magnification under a microscope.
Molecular biology: A branch of biology that deals with the physical and chemical structure of living things on the molecular level.
Natural selection: Process by which those organisms best adapted to their environment survive and pass their traits to offspring.
Biology regained momentum during the Renaissance, with particular credit going to the Italian artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, both of whom created detailed anatomical drawing of human. During this time, cadavers were also dissected for the first time, and their internal workings described. Formal experimentation, however, did not take place until the seventeenth century, when the English physician William Harvey, successfully demonstrated how the blood circulated through the body. His work launched physiology.
The explosion of research led to the foundation of the first scientific academies and the establishment of the first scientific journals. The first official school, opening in 1603, was the Academy of the Lynx in Rome. The first journals were printed in 1665 in France and Great Britain.
The next huge leap in biology came when with the invention of the microscope. The microscope allowed scientists to closely observe organisms at the cellular and, eventually, when they became powerful enough, the molecular level. The first drawings of magnified life were of a honeybee magnified ten times its normal size.
In the eighteenth century, the Swedish botant Carolus Linnaeus created a more nuanced system of classification of plants and animals that replaced Aristotle’s original system: Linnaeus’ broke down the categories which rank plants and animals according to their similarities; he called these levels class, order, genus and species. We use the Linneaus classification system to this day. Linnaeus is also responsible for popularizing binomial nomenclature; each organism has a Latin name that identifies its genus and species, for example cats are “Felis catus” and humans are “homo sapiens.”
Darwin exploded the field of biology with his 1859 work The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. His theory of evolution was accepted by the majority of people in the scientific community and eventually, most of the lay community.
Also of significance to the field of biology was the French scientist Louis Pasteur, whose work proved that “living things do not arise spontaneously.” This work led to the creation of the first vaccines. Germ theory was established Robert Koch a German physician, during the nineteenth century.
The twentieth century saw the invention of chemotherapy as well as the widespread use of antibiotics, as well as sulfa drugs and, by the 1940s, penicillin.
While it seems that the vast majority of biological science discoveries occurred between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, work continues into the twenty-first, especially in the fields of genetic engineering and microbiology.
Source: Encyclopedia of Science, ©2005 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved