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Fields in the Life Sciences

Discusses and defines different types of scientific careers.

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Fields in the Life Sciences

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, which life science field is right for you (Table below, Table below, and Table below)?

Field Focus
Botany Plants
Zoology Animals
Marine biology Organisms living in oceans
Freshwater 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
Field Focus
Cell biology Cells and their structures/functions
Anatomy Structures of animals
Morphology Form and structure of living organisms
Physiology Physical and chemical functions of tissues and organs
Immunology Mechanisms inside organisms that protect them from disease and infection
Neuroscience The nervous system
Developmental biology and embryology Growth and development of plants and animals
Genetics Genetic makeup of living organisms and heredity
Biochemistry Chemistry of living organisms
Molecular biology Nucleic acids and proteins
Epidemiology How diseases arise and spread
Evolution The changing of species over time
Field Focus
Ecology How various organisms interact with their environments
Biogeography 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 (and genes) from one generation to the next. Molecular biology is the study of molecules, such as DNA and proteins. Ecologists study ecosystems, which are made of both living and nonliving parts of the environment. A botanist may work in a botanical garden, where plant life can be studied. What will you study with the other subspecialties?

Drawing of viruses among red blood cells

This illustration shows a virus among red blood cells. Which fields study red blood cells and viruses? (Keep in mind that viruses are actually much smaller than cells.)

Biogeography of a coral reef

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


  • 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 the life sciences that examine interactions between organisms and their environments, such as ecology.

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Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is the study of reptiles and amphibians?
  2. What is the 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?
  6. What is ecology?


  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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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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