Biology is the study of life. Biology attempts to understand life by examining the different components that make it up (cells, genes, DNA), how these components interact with one another and how they evolved over time. Because living things are so diverse, biology can be divided into many subfields. Within these subfields, there are also multiple branches of specialization that may focus on the anatomy of living organisms or their physiology. The study of plants and animals, in particular, has historically been known as “natural history”, though natural history incorporates much more than just organisms; geology and astronomy were also essential natural history disciplines for centuries because both deal directly with the material world surrounding us! Today, all biological disciplines rely heavily on technology like electron microscopes and DNA sequencers.
The Basic Principles of Modern Biology
The basic principles of modern biology were established by the Ancient Greeks (most notably Aristotle). However, it was not until the invention of the microscope in the 17th century that science truly took off. Prior to this time, biologists were mainly concerned with classifying organisms and interpreting their form; for example, many medieval monks studied and drew pictures of plants because they thought they were signs from God (this is why you’ll find so many detailed drawings of flowers in medieval manuscripts). When microscopes were invented, scientists like Robert Hooke began examining plant specimens at a much more granular level and discovered cells (yes, plants have cells too!).
Since then, biologists like Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel (who famously studied the inheritance of physical traits in pea plants) have made major contributions to our understanding of biology. Recently, biologists like James Watson and Francis Crick helped discover the helical structure of DNA which would provide a mechanism for how genetic information is passed from generation to generation. Many other advancements followed as well; as our technology becomes more precise and sophisticated, we’ve been able to investigate life at smaller and smaller scales! That being said, Biology is a relatively young scientific discipline – it is still constantly evolving along with our technologies. As a result, Biology continues to be an exciting field full of new discoveries.
There are many avenues of Biology to choose from!
If you’re interested in studying Biology, it can be helpful to think about what aspects of life most interest you. If you prefer the laboratory setting and want to focus on research, Biology has many subfields that can accommodate your interests. That being said, there are some major branches of modern biology (listed below) that tend to attract the bulk of students’ attention:
Branches of Biology
Below are some of the many branches available to Biology students. Within the discipline, each branch can be divided into more specific subfields or even further down into individual specializations! This list is by no means exhaustive; in fact, there are dozens of other specialized fields in biology besides these six.
Ecology looks at how organisms interact with one another and their environments. It attempts to answer questions like “How do organisms disperse?” and “Why do organisms live where they live?”
Evolutionary biologists attempt to understand how species evolve over time (for example, why wolves evolved into dogs). They use evidence from fossils and DNA to study evolutionary change. Some evolutionary biologists investigate changes that occur within species (for example, changes in the frequency of a certain trait within a population) while others study how species evolve into different species.
Neurobiology looks at how nervous systems work and how they evolved. This includes research into brains as well as sensory and motor neurons that connect the brain to other areas of the body.
Developmental biology examines how organisms develop from single cells (the zygote) all the way up to adults. It studies both plants and animals! Developmental biologists investigate everything from organ development to disease formation and ageing. Many developmental biologists study diseases like cancer since cancers often arise due to developmental errors.