Introduction to Characteristics of Life

List the defining characteristics of biological life

Biology is the science that studies life, but what exactly is life? This may sound like a silly question with an obvious response, but it is not always easy to define life. For example, a branch of biology called virology studies viruses, which exhibit some of the characteristics of living entities but lack others. It turns out that although viruses can attack living organisms, cause diseases, and even reproduce, they do not meet the criteria that biologists use to define life. Consequently, virologists are not biologists, strictly speaking. Similarly, some biologists study the early molecular evolution that gave rise to life; since the events that preceded life are not biological events, these scientists are also excluded from biology in the strict sense of the term.

From its earliest beginnings, biology has wrestled with these¬†questions: What are the shared properties that make something “alive”? And once we know something is alive, how do we find meaningful levels of organization in its structure?

What You’ll Learn to Do

  • List the properties of life
  • Order the levels of organization of living things

Learning Activities

The learning activities for this section include the following:

  • Properties of Life
  • Levels of Organization of Living Things
  • Self Check: Characteristics of Life