Why It Matters: Introduction to Biology

Why define biology and apply its principles?

A small mammal covered in armored scales. It stands on its back legs, using its tail to balance itself.

Figure 1. The pangolin (also known as the scaly anteater) is a unique animal. It walks on just its hind legs and uses its front claws to tear open termite mounds.

One night while she was scrolling through her social media feeds, Cristina saw that her brother had linked to an article about some of the world’s weirdest animals. As she paged through the article, Cristina became increasingly interested in the different features these animals had: some were eyeless, some were colorless, and others had even stranger features.

Before Cristina could dig deeper into these animals, she got a message from her cousin Samuel. He’d sent a link to an article about genetically modified foods and the dangers they inherently contain. Cristina was only halfway through reading the first paragraph of the article when Samuel sent her another article: this one lauding the paleo diet and its benefits. Cristina started to read the article, but before she got too far, she remembered that she had a paper due the next day. She made a mental note to come back to the articles from her cousin, and she bookmarked the animals article.

Though Cristina might not realize it, she’s just been presented with three different biological questions. How did these animals develop such unique characteristics? Are GMOs dangerous? Are extreme diets (like the paleo diet) beneficial?

Cristina still has to come to her own conclusions and make her own choices, but having an understanding of biology will help her make the best choices she can.

Learning Outcomes

  • List the defining characteristics of biological life
  • Identify the different kinds of cells that make up different kinds of organisms
  • Describe classification and organizational tools biologists use, including modern taxonomy
  • Describe biology as a science and identify the key components of scientific inquiry