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1.2: Fields in the Life Sciences

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What kind of scientist studies dolphins?

Dolphins are living organisms, so studying them is part of the life sciences. The life sciences, however, are broken down into many fields. Scientists that study dolphins and other life in the ocean are called marine biologists.

Fields in the Life Sciences

The life sciences are the study of living organisms. They deal with every aspect of living organisms, from the biology of cells to the biology of individual organisms to how these organisms interact with other organisms and their environment.

The life sciences are so complex that most scientists focus on just one or two subspecialties. If you want to study insects, what would you be called? An entomologist. If you want to study the tiny things that give us the flu, then you need to enter the field of virology, the study of viruses. If you want to study the nervous system, what life sciences field is right for you (Table below, Table below, and Table below)?

Subspecialty Studies Subspecialty Studies
Botany plants Zoology animals
Marine Biology organisms living in oceans Fresh Water Biology organisms living in and around freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, etc.
Microbiology microorganisms Bacteriology bacteria
Virology viruses Entomology insects
Taxonomy the classification of organisms
Life Science What it Examines Life Science What it Examines
Cell Biology cells and their structures/functions Anatomy the structures of animals
Morphology the form and structure of living organisms Physiology the physical and chemical functions of tissues and organs
Immunology the mechanisms inside organisms that protect them from disease and infection Neuroscience the nervous system
Developmental Biology and Embryology the growth and development of plants and animals Genetics the genetic make up of all living organisms (heredity)
Biochemistry the chemistry of living organisms Molecular Biology nucleic acids and proteins
Epidemiology how diseases arise and spread Evolution the changing of species over time
Life Science What it Examines
Ecology how various organisms interact with their environments
Biogeography the distribution of living organisms
Population Biology the biodiversity, evolution, and environmental biology of populations of organisms

During the study of the life sciences, you will study cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, botany, microbiology, zoology, evolution, ecology, and physiology. Cell biology is the study of cellular structure and function (Figure below). Genetics is the study of heredity, which is the passing of traits from one generation to the next. Molecular biology is the study of molecules, such as DNA and proteins. What will you study with the other subspecialties?

This illustration shows a virus among red blood cells. Which fields study red blood cells and viruses?

Other life science subspecialties include biogeography, which is the study of where organisms live and at what abundance.

Vocabulary

  • botany: The study of plants.
  • cell: The basic unit of structure and function of a living organism; the basic unit of life.
  • cell biology: The study of cells, and their structures and functions.
  • ecology: The study of how various organisms interact with each other and with their environments.
  • evolution: The change in species over time.
  • genetics: The study of heredity.
  • heredity: The passing of traits from one generation to the next.
  • life sciences: The study of living organisms.
  • microbiology: The study of microorganisms.
  • molecular biology: The study of molecules, such as DNA and proteins.
  • physiology: The study of the physical and chemical functions of tissues and organs.
  • virology: The study of viruses.
  • zoology: The study of animals.

Summary

  • There are several subspecialties within the life sciences that focus on one type of organism, such as virology and bacteriology.
  • There are several fields of biology that examine interactions between organisms and their environments, such as ecology.

Practice

Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is the study of reptiles and amphibians?
  2. What is study of prehistoric life by means of fossils?
  3. What is the study of mollusks?
  4. What is the study of cells?
  5. What is the study of fungi?

Review

  1. What is name of the field of the life sciences that studies insects?
  2. What is name of the field of the life sciences that studies the nervous system?
  3. What are cell biology, genetics, and molecular biology?

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    Vocabulary

    botany

    The study of plants.

    cell

    The basic unit of structure and function of a living organism; the basic unit of life.

    cell biology

    The study of cells, and their structures and functions.

    ecology

    The study of how various organisms interact with each other and with their environments.

    evolution

    The change in species over time.

    genetics

    The study of heredity.

    heredity

    The passing of traits from one generation to the next.

    life sciences

    The study of living organisms.

    microbiology

    The study of microorganisms.

    molecular biology

    The study of molecules, such as DNA and proteins.

    physiology

    The study of the physical and chemical functions of tissues and organs.

    virology

    The study of viruses.

    zoology

    The study of animals.

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