Biology is a natural science that is defined as the study of life. It involves analyzing the types, structures, and functions of living things. The term biology comes from two Greek words: bios (life) and logos (study). All matter is categorized as either living or non-living. This categorization led to the division of natural sciences into biological sciences and physical sciences. Biological sciences are known collectively as biology.
Branches of Biology
Biology is a broad science that comprises many branches. There are three major branches of biology: botany, zoology, and microbiology.
Botany, also known as phytology, is the study of plants. It involves plant analysis, research, and protection of plants. A person who specializes in botany is known as a Botanist or a Phytologist. Botany is the basis for disciplines such as agriculture, horticulture, and forestry. This branch of biology is important because plants support life on earth by producing food and oxygen.
Zoology is the study of animals. It involves analyzing the different types of animals, their structure, function, and behavior. There are many sub-disciplines of zoology because of the wide range of animals that exist. Some of the sub-disciplines of zoology are anatomy, animal physiology, entomology, and anthropology.
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms. These are organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. They include bacteria, viruses, algae, and fungi. Microbiology has led to significant developments in medicine and the food industry. Some sub-disciplines of microbiology are bacteriology, virology, mycology, and phycology.
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Properties of Life
Since biology is the science of living things, it is necessary to distinguish living things from non-living ones. Life is identified through its characteristics, which are:
All living things are organized in their structure. Their components are arranged in biological levels from the simplest structures to the most complex. The levels of organization of organisms are organelle, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystem, and biosphere.
Growth and Development
All living things grow and develop, thus they have several stages in their life cycle. Growth is the increase in the size of an organism. Development is the change in shape and function of an organism. It occurs progressively as the organism moves from one stage of life into another, for example the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
Response to stimuli
Stimuli are things that cause action in an organism. Living things are sensitive and can detect stimuli and respond accordingly. They change their state or activity in response to the stimulus. For example, a human being will move if they detect an extremely hot item, and a plant will move towards sunlight.
Living things can form new individual organisms through the process of reproduction. The new organism is biologically similar to the parent organism. Every living thing exists because of reproduction. This process ensures the continuity of life.
Homeostasis is the process of maintaining a constant internal environment. Living things need specific conditions to enable their survival. The conditions in the environment usually change, thus the organisms need to regulate their internal conditions. They do so through homeostasis.
Metabolism is the process of producing energy to maintain the living state of an organism. It involves making use of substances from the environment. For example, human beings break down food to obtain energy, while plants use sunlight to produce energy.
Adaptation is the process of changing to fit into the environment. Living organisms are adapted to the environments they live in. They have structures and behaviors that enable their survival in a specific environment. For example, a cactus is adapted to the desert environment through its thorny leaves that prevent water loss.
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Levels of Organization of Living Things
Living things are complex organisms that are highly organized. Their different levels of organization from the lowest to the highest are:
Organelles are specialized structures within a cell that perform specific functions. They include mitochondria, nuclei, chloroplasts, Golgi apparatus, and endoplasmic reticulum.
The cell is the basic unit of life. It is responsible for all of life’s processes. A cell can be a complete organism by itself.
A tissue is a group of cells that have a similar structure and function. These cells are organized to function together.
Organs are groups of tissues that perform similar functions. For example, the heart consists of tissues that are adapted to receive and pump blood in the body.
Organ systems are groups of organs that work together as a system to accomplish a specific biological task. For example, the respiratory system consists of the nose, mouth, trachea, bronchi, and lungs.
An organism is a living thing that consists of mutually interdependent parts that carry out different processes.
Populations are groups of organisms with similar characteristics. These organisms are known as species and can interbreed.
Communities are groups of species that live in the same location and interact. It is a set of populations that occupy a specific area.
An ecosystem is a natural area where living things interact with the non-living things in the environment, including the weather and landscape. They form a system that enables the organisms to survive. An example of an ecosystem is a rainforest.
The biosphere is the combination of all ecosystems. It is the part of the world where living organisms exist.
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Diversity and Classification of Life
Life is very diverse because there are many varieties of life. Diversity is important because it enables the sustainability of life. The diversity of life results from evolution, a process through which living organisms change gradually to form new types of organisms.
Classification According to Domains
Living organisms have evolved to form three main domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya.
- Bacteria – Single-celled microorganisms that are diverse and found in almost every environment. They lack a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles.
- Archaea – Single-celled microorganisms that live in extreme environments, such as hot springs, and acidic environments. They are similar to bacteria in that they lack membrane-bound organelles in their cells, including the nucleus. They are different in that they lack peptidoglycan in the cell wall.
- Eukarya – Unicellular and multicellular organisms that have a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. They include animals, plants, and fungi.
Taxonomy is a more specific system of naming and classifying living organisms. It was developed by Carl Linnaeus. He also developed a two-name system of naming living organisms, known as the binomial nomenclature. The levels of taxonomic classification are:
A kingdom is the highest level of classification in taxonomy. It comprises eight groups, Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Protozoctista, Bacteria, Archaebacteria, Chromista, and Archezoa.
The phylum, also known as a division, is a rank below the kingdom. Each kingdom consists of several phyla. The organisms in these groups have a degree of similarity in their morphology and genetics.
The class is a group below the phylum that classifies organisms based on their similarities in organ systems. Organisms in the same class have a similar layout of organ systems.
Order is a more specific classification than class. It consists of organisms with more similar characteristics, for example, primates.
Families are the subunits of orders. Genetically, families are considered more stable classification levels than genus and species.
A genus is a group of organisms that are closely related genetically. In binomial nomenclature, the genus forms the first name of an organism.
The species is the lowest and most specific classification in taxonomy. It forms the second name of an organism in binomial nomenclature. Members of the same species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
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