Science 101: Biology

Overview

The Ultimate Illustrated Guide for Nonscientists

Science 101: Biology provides all the basics of biology in twelve easy chapters, ranging from such fundamental questions as "What is life?" to the essentials of anatomy, physiology, ecology, genetics, and evolution.

This book also covers public controversies such as stem-cell research and intelligent design theory.

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Overview

The Ultimate Illustrated Guide for Nonscientists

Science 101: Biology provides all the basics of biology in twelve easy chapters, ranging from such fundamental questions as "What is life?" to the essentials of anatomy, physiology, ecology, genetics, and evolution.

This book also covers public controversies such as stem-cell research and intelligent design theory.

  • A clear and engaging text describes all forms of life, from bacteria to plants and animals
  • Chapters on breaking news in biology and the history of biology, with an emphasis on the relevance of biology for society
  • More than 250 full-color photographs and illustrations
  • Ready Reference section with at-a-glance charts and diagrams
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060891350
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Series: Science 101 Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 791,067
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Science 101: Biology

Chapter One

The Mystery of Life

Almost every aspect of life is mysterious. How do birds fly? What makes a heart beat? Why are redwood trees tall, and why does a child resemble her parents? How does disease spread? Why are humans different from other animals? What makes the moss on a rock different from the rock? How did living things get here? What is life?

A good way to begin answering questions like these is to understand some of the basic concepts of biology.

Biologists have learned to recognize key characteristics that often are found in living things, including reproduction, growth, metabolism, and adaptation, to answer the question, "What is life?" Living things also can be understood as concentric layers of organization, from subatomic particles to the biosphere itself, the total region of Earth where life exists. It is also important to understand persistent themes in the history of life. These include continuity and change (evident in the process known as evolution) and a strong relationship between structures and the functions they perform. Such concepts are a useful beginning to probing the mystery of life.

What Is Life?

Life is not easy to define, evenfor biologists, the people who study it as a profession. The average person can usually tell a living thing from a nonliving one, but articulating what makes them different is difficult. Is the difference that an ant moves but a pebble does not? No: a pebble moves under certain conditions, such as rolling down a slope. Is it that a flower grows but a crystal doesn't? But crystals do grow under the right conditions. There may notbe a comprehensive one-line definition of life, but life can be defined in terms of several characteristics that are typically present in living things. These include reproduction, growth, metabolism, irritability, and adaptation.

Reproduction and Growth

Living things make more of themselves—in two senses. Through reproduction, they make more individuals of their own species, or kind. Through growth, they make their own bodies larger in an orderly way, with all parts increasing in size. Both processes depend on division of the most basic biological unit: the cell. A cell splits to form two new cells. In single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, this is enough to bring about reproduction: two organisms now exist instead of one. In organisms that have many cells and reproduce sexually, the process is more complicated. Simple cell division will result in growth of tissues—for example, when the muscle cells in a weightlifter's arms divide, the arms thicken.But reproduction requires the union of two sex cells, one each from a male and a female. The result is an embryo that will grow into a new individual.

Using and Finding Food

To stay alive, living things must take in energy and raw materials, use them, and discard the waste products. They get their energy in many ways—a meadow absorbing sunlight, bees collecting pollen and nectar from flowers, or a tiger eating its prey. But they all need the energy and raw materials known as food to fuel their reactions, maintain their bodies, and grow. The sum of the chemical processes by which organisms perform these activities is known as metabolism.

To succeed in finding food—and in the equally important task of avoiding becoming food—living things must be responsive to their environments. They must have the property of irritability, or sensitivity, the ability to sense and respond to stimuli. The sense apparatus may be as simple as the light-sensitive eyespot of a one-celled algae or as complex as an insect's compound eye. Sensitivity usually sparks some kind of movement, such as the sudden flight of birds when a person draws near, or the bending of a plant toward sunlight.

To survive, living things

must also fit themselves, or adapt, to their environments. They do so in the long term when the most successful members of a population—the fastest sharks or the tallest oaks—pass on to their descendants those characteristics that made them successful. This kind of adaptation contributes to the process of evolution through which species change and new species originate. Adaptation happens in the short term when an organism adjusts to passing changes, as when a person's pupils shrink on leaving a dark room and entering into sunlight. This and other adaptations are part of the arsenal that living things draw upon in order to metabolize, grow, and reproduce—the basic characteristics of life.

A Tendency Toward Order

Although life is different from nonlife, it is not completely different. Living things exist in a nonliving universe and depend on it in many ways, from plants absorbing energy from sunlight to bats finding shelter in caves. Indeed, living things are made of the same tiny particles—subatomic particles—that make up nonliving things. What makes organisms different from the materials that compose them is their level of organization.

Living things exhibit not just one but many layers of biological organization. This tendency toward order is sometimes modeled in a pyramid of life.

The Pyramid of Life

In this pyramid, each level has structures that are larger and more complex than those below it. The structures on each level contain those below it, but do not contain any above it. For example, an organ contains tissues, which contain cells, but organs do not contain organisms; rather, it is the organism that contains organs. So the pyramid of life is a pyramid of increasing complexity until one reaches the top, the entire biosphere, or the region of Earth that contains life.

The pyramid levels are:

1. subatomic particle—A unit of matter, such as a proton,electron, or neutron that can compose atoms.

2. atom—A larger unit of matter that can compose even larger units called molecules.

3. molecule—A molecule is the smallest part of a substance that still has the chemical identity of the substance. For example, a water molecule still behaves like water, but if broken into its constituents, one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, it will not.

Science 101: Biology. Copyright © by George Ochoa. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Welcome to Biology     1
The Mystery of Life     5
What is Life?     6
A Tendency Toward Order     8
Constant Change     10
Using Energy     12
Structures That Work     14
From Microscopes to Cat Scans     17
Doing Science     18
What Have Biologists Done for Us?     20
Getting the Job Done     22
In the Field     24
The Microscopic World     26
The Many Sides of Life     28
Centuries of Scrutiny     31
Biologists of the Ancient World     32
The Scientific Revolution     34
A New View of Life     36
The Basics of Life     38
Medicine Reborn     40
Unlocking the Gene     42
Explosion of Knowledge     44
The Building Blocks of Life     47
What Makes a Cell?     48
Inside a Cell     50
Guarding the Gates     52
The Workings of Cells     54
The Magic of Self-Copying     56
A Complex Architecture     59
From Cells to Bodies     60
Skins and Skeletons     62
Nerves and Muscles     64
Channels for Air and Blood     66
A Place for Food     68
Chemical Messengers     70
Where the Future Begins     72
Breathing and Eating     75
Solar-Powered Organisms     76
Obtaining Oxygen     78
Processing Food     80
To Every Corner of the Body     82
Maintaining Order     84
Fighting Invasion     86
Sensation and Motion     88
The Next Generation     90
Ready Reference
Famous Biologists     92
Discoveries in Biology     94
Life Through Time     98
Biomes of the World     100
Kingdoms of Life     102
From Cells to Organisms     104
The Community of Life     107
Complex Interactions     108
A World of Biomes     110
Who Eats Whom?     112
Unending Cycles     114
A Role for Every Player     116
Partners in Survival     118
The Human Footprint     120
The Evolving Tapestry     123
Inheritance: Material of Evolution      124
The Evolution Toolkit     126
Evolution-The Evidence     128
Mass Extinctions     130
How Life Began     132
From Sea to Land     134
The Age of Dinosaurs     136
A New Kind of Mammal     138
What's in a Name?     141
Systems of Order     142
The Categories of Life     144
The Family Tree of Organisms     146
The Oldest Living Things     148
One-Celled Wonders     150
Mushrooms and Mold     152
Plants and Animals     155
Alike Yet Different     156
The Kingdom of Plants     158
The Kingdom of Animals     160
Mosses and Evergreens     162
Flowers and Fruits     164
Animals Without Backbones     166
The Backboned Animals     168
A Circle of Dependence     170
The Human Animal     173
What Makes Us Human?     174
From Conception to Death     176
An Unusual Body Plan     178
How a Human Works: Human Physiology     180
How Humans Behave     182
Plagues Abounding      184
Are We Our Genes?     186
A Breaking Science     189
Medical Miracles     190
The Mind and the Brain     192
Genomes Unveiled     194
Brave New World     196
Penetrating the Wild     198
A Host of Discoveries     200
A Sea of Controversy     202
Glossary     204
Further Reading     208
At the Smithsonian     210
Index     212
Acknowledgments/Picture Credits     218
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