ETYM Greek bio life + -logy: cf. French biologie.
Science of life. Biology includes all the life sciences—for example, anatomy and physiology (the study of the structure of living things), cytology (the study of cells), zoology (the study of animals) and botany (the study of plants), ecology (the study of habitats and the interaction of living species), animal behavior, embryology, and taxonomy, and plant breeding. Increasingly this century biologists have concentrated on molecular structures: biochemistry, biophysics, and genetics (the study of inheritance and variation).
Biological research has come a long way toward understanding the nature of life, and during the 1990s our knowledge will be further extended when the international Human Genome Project will attempt to map the entire genetic code contained in the 23 pairs of human chromosomes.
The word was first used by the German physician G R Treviranus (1776–1837) 1802, and was popularized by Jean Lamarck. Although medical students such as Hippocrates in the fifth century BC made the first accurate biological observations, describing medicinally useful plants and their properties, attempts at a scientific physiology were bound to fail in the absence of scientific instruments, without a tradition of experiment, or a body of organized knowledge with its own terminology.
Only with the Renaissance did free inquiry come into its own. The 16th century saw the production of encyclopedias of natural history, such as that of Konrad Gesner (1516–1565), and the beginnings of modern anatomy, notably at Padua under Vesalius, who was succeeded by Fabricius. William Harvey laid the foundation of modern physiology by his work on the circulation of the blood—the first time any basic function of the body had been scientifically explained. Linnaeus introduced a binomial system of classification.
evolution and genetics.
During the 19th century, attempts to understand the origins of the great diversity of life forms gave rise to several theories of biological evolution, culminating in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The ensuing debates over the processes of evolution, together with the elucidation of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, provided the basis for the new science of genetics.
applying chemical principles.
The application of the principles of chemistry to organic substances led to developments in biochemistry and molecular biology.
1. Characteristic life processes and phenomena of living organisms.
2. The science that studies living organisms; SYN. biological science.