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1.2: Fields in the Life Sciences

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    What kind of scientist studies dolphins?

    Dolphins are living organisms, so studying them is part of the life sciences. The life sciences, however, are broken down into many fields. Scientists that study dolphins and other life in the ocean are called marine biologists.

    Fields in the Life Sciences

    The life sciences are the study of living organisms. They deal with every aspect of living organisms, from the biology of cells, to the biology of individual organisms, to how these organisms interact with other organisms and their environment.

    The life sciences are so complex that most scientists focus on just one or two subspecialties. If you want to study insects, what would you be called? An entomologist. If you want to study the tiny things that give us the flu, then you need to enter the field of virology, the study of viruses. If you want to study the nervous system, which life science field is right for you (Table below, Table below, and Table below)?

    Field Focus
    Botany Plants
    Zoology Animals
    Marine biology Organisms living in oceans
    Freshwater biology Organisms living in and around freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, etc.
    Microbiology Microorganisms
    Bacteriology Bacteria
    Virology Viruses
    Entomology Insects
    Taxonomy The classification of organisms
    Field Focus
    Cell biology Cells and their structures/functions
    Anatomy Structures of animals
    Morphology Form and structure of living organisms
    Physiology Physical and chemical functions of tissues and organs
    Immunology Mechanisms inside organisms that protect them from disease and infection
    Neuroscience The nervous system
    Developmental biology and embryology Growth and development of plants and animals
    Genetics Genetic makeup of living organisms and heredity
    Biochemistry Chemistry of living organisms
    Molecular biology Nucleic acids and proteins
    Epidemiology How diseases arise and spread
    Evolution The changing of species over time
    Field Focus
    Ecology How various organisms interact with their environments
    Biogeography Distribution of living organisms
    Population biology The biodiversity, evolution, and environmental biology of populations of organisms

    During the study of the life sciences, you will study cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, botany, microbiology, zoology, evolution, ecology, and physiology. Cell biology is the study of cellular structure and function (Figure below). Genetics is the study of heredity, which is the passing of traits (and genes) from one generation to the next. Molecular biology is the study of molecules, such as DNA and proteins. Ecologists study ecosystems, which are made of both living and nonliving parts of the environment. A botanist may work in a botanical garden, where plant life can be studied. What will you study with the other subspecialties?

    Drawing of viruses among red blood cells
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This illustration shows a virus among red blood cells. Which fields study red blood cells and viruses? (Keep in mind that viruses are actually much smaller than cells.)
    Biogeography of a coral reef
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Other life science subspecialties include biogeography, which is the study of where organisms live and at what abundance.

    Summary

    • There are several subspecialties within the life sciences that focus on one type of organism, such as virology and bacteriology.
    • There are several fields of the life sciences that examine interactions between organisms and their environments, such as ecology.

    Explore More

    Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What is the study of reptiles and amphibians?
    2. What is the study of prehistoric life by means of fossils?
    3. What is the study of mollusks?
    4. What is the study of cells?
    5. What is the study of fungi?
    6. What is ecology?

    Review

    1. What is name of the field of the life sciences that studies insects?
    2. What is name of the field of the life sciences that studies the nervous system?
    3. What are cell biology, genetics, and molecular biology?