Biology: Concepts and Investigations, 4th Edition
Life Is Everywhere
Welcome to biology, the scientific study of life. Living organisms surround us. You are alive, and so are your friends, your pets, and the plants in your home and yard. Bacteria thrive on and in your body. Any food you ate today was (until recently, anyway) alive. And the news is full of biology-related discoveries about fossils, new cancer treatments, genetics, global climate change, and the environment.
Stories such as these enjoy frequent media coverage because this is an exciting time to study biology. Not only is the field changing rapidly, but its new discoveries and applications might change your life. DNA technology has brought us genetically engineered bacteria that can manufacture life-saving drugs—and genetically engineered plants that produce their own pesticides. This same technology may one day enable physicians to routinely cure hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and other genetic diseases by replacing faulty DNA with a functional “patch.”
Biology also includes the study of nonhuman life. We exist only because of our interactions with other species, which provide food, oxygen, clean water, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. Even species that do not directly “serve” us are essential to the ecosystems that sustain all life. Human activities, however, are pushing many ecosystems dangerously out of balance.
Consider the “crown of thorns” sea star shown here. These animals are notorious for their arsenal of sharp, venomous spines, which may cause painful wounds. At low population densities, their coral-eating habits help maintain reef biodiversity. Sometimes, however, huge numbers of sea stars destroy entire patches of coral. What causes these infestations? Many researchers point to nutrient-polluted runoff from nearby farms and cities. The nutrient influx triggers a population explosion of algae, which sea star larvae eat as they develop into adults. Removing the adults from an infested reef is dangerous and labor-intensive, but help is coming from an unusual source: Underwater robots have been programmed to seek out the crown of thorns and deliver a lethal injection.
The list of biology-related topics goes on and on: global climate change, stem cell therapies, new cancer treatments, infectious disease, improved crop plants, synthetic life, infertility treatment, endangered species, DNA fingerprinting, biofuels, pollution, the history of life, and more. This book will bring you a taste of what we know about life and help you make sense of the science-related news you see every day. Chapter 1 begins your journey by introducing the scope of biology and explaining how science teaches us what we know about life.
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