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Biology as a science

Biology, the study of living things, is a branch of natural science. The word biology is derived from the Greek words, Bios-Life and Logos-knowledge. The major divisions of biology are botany, the study of biology and living things, plants, and zoology, the study of animals. However, in modern times, other major divisions include microbiology, bacteriology and virology. At present however, biology is not partitioned so neatly, because chemistry and other disciplines have become intertwined in biology, leading to such areas as biochemistry, ecology, physiology, and molecular biology.

More and more, the study of biology involves the application of biology or applied biology, leading to such areas as food science, nutrition, environmental science, industrial microbiology, agriculture, animal science and behavioural biology.

Biology as inquiry

Sciences, of which biology is a part, follow a set of rules and regulations and these are known as the scientific method. Before any statement of fact is accepted in science, it must be rigorously tested and the scientific method must be followed. The scientific method is the totality of ways, techniques, skills and procedures or sequence which a scientist adopts to investigate his observations.

The scientific method consists of:

(i) observation
(ii) questioning
(iii) formation of hypotheses
(iv) gathering of data and relevant facts
(v) testing of predictions/hypotheses
(vi) acceptance or rejection of hypotheses

On making an observation, a scientist then asks certain questions which give direction to what is observed. A wise guess is made as to what is going on. This wise guess is known as an hypothesis. The hypothesis gives the scientist a sense of direction to the problem raised.

The next step is collection of data relevant to the investigation. Experiments are set up, observations are made and data collected. The scientist makes use of all the instruments and materials available to him.

The data and observations are then analysed, using the various statistical methods. It is only after this that the hypothesis/prediction can be tested.

Usefulness of biology and careers in biology

Biology, as described earlier, is the science of living things. As man is dependent on living things for his existence, it is fundamental to have an understanding of how these things function. Man is dependent on plants and animals as food sources, transport and leisure. A good understanding of biology is necessary for man to maximise the management of his environment. Biology is important in agriculture, medical and veterinary science, and biotechnology which involves the production of food, medicinal and industrial materials using micro-organisms.

Careers in which biology is an essential component include Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing, Food Technology, Agriculture, Environmental Science, Genetic Engineering, Forestry, Fishery Science and a host of others.

Summary

1. Science has been defined as accumulated knowledge useful in the interpretation of various activities which we see, touch, hear, smell and taste. From the local point of view, science has been defined as a way of looking at and finding out about those things that occur in our environment.

2. The scientific method involves the identification of problems, formulation of hypotheses, collecting data, analysing data, drawing inferences and conclusions.

3. We study science to understand the basic principles of life and the position of man among other living things.

4. Knowledge in biology has become a useful tool in the choice of careers by students.

5. All living things respire, feed, move, excrete, respond to stimulus, grow, reproduce, age and die.

6. Living organisms are classified into related groups in either the plant or animal kingdoms. The plant kingdom is reclassified into simple and non-vascular plants, and complex multicellular, and vascular plants. On the other hand, the animal kingdom is reclassified into invertebrate and vertebrate groups.

7. We classify living organisms for reasons of simple identification and also to establish relationships between them.

8. In their organisation, living things show an increasing level of complexity as we move from simple, unicellular forms to the high multicellular type, with structures ranging from organelles to cells, tissues, organs to systems.

9. Among the advantages of cellular organisation are specialised functioning and division of labour among different body structures.

10. Every living organism requires energy to perform one form of biological activity or the other. The ultimate source of energy is from the sun. Plants absorb radiant energy for building complex food molecules, from which animals derive their energy.

11. Metabolism is the total of all the physical, chemical and biological processes that occur in the body in building up, or breaking down energy.

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