Outcome: The Study of Biology

Describe biology as a science and identify the key components of scientific inquiry.

The scope of biology is vast. Biologists may study anything from the microscopic (Figure 1a) or submicroscopic view of a cell to ecosystems (Figure 1b) and the whole living planet.

Photo A depicts round colonies of blue-green algae. Each algae cell is about 5 microns across. Photo B depicts round fossil structures called stromatalites along a watery shoreline.

Figure 1. (a) Formerly called blue-green algae, these cyanobacteria, shown here at 300× magnification under a light microscope, are some of Earth’s oldest life forms. (b) These stromatolites along the shores of Lake Thetis in Western Australia are ancient structures formed by the layering of cyanobacteria in shallow waters.

Listening to the daily news, you will quickly realize how many aspects of biology are discussed every day. You may hear about E. coli (Escherichia coli) outbreaks in spinach or listeria contamination in ice cream. Or you may hear about efforts toward finding a cure for Ebola, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. On a global scale, many researchers are committed to finding ways to protect the planet, solve environmental issues, and reduce the effects of climate change. All of these diverse endeavors are related to different facets of the discipline of biology.

Regardless of their particular focus of study, all biologists use the same methodology as they seek new discoveries: scientific inquiry.

What You’ll Learn to Do

  • Identify the main branches of biology.
  • Describe “scientific inquiry” and identify its scope of coverage.
  • Form a hypothesis and use it to design a scientific experiment.
  • Analyze simple data and graphed results.

Learning Activities

The learning activities for this section include the following:

  • Reading: The Branches of Biology
  • Reading: Scientific Inquiry
  • Reading: Experiments and Hypotheses
  • Reading: Interpreting Results
  • Self Check: The Study of Biology