Welcome to
General Biology 104

2D says, “Welcome to General Biology. My name is ‘2D,’ and I’m a Monarch Butterfly. I know that ‘2D’ seems like kind of a funny name for a Monarch, but that’s what they named me. Several years ago, Ms. Carter’s General Biology students helped raise Monarchs for an international research project. They were able to release all the ‘extra’ Monarchs that weren’t needed for the actual research project, but I had a broken wing and couldn’t fly. Each of the Monarchs they released had a little tag with a number on it glued to one wing. My number was ‘2D,’ so when I couldn’t be released, that became my name, too. Ms. Carter fed me sugar water from a teaspoon by gently, carefully uncoiling my “tongue” until the tip was in the sugar water. Once I tasted that and realized it was time to eat, I would just stand there siphoning up the sugar water until I was full.
Because Monarchs like me are living organisms, many of the topics you will be discussing in General Biology relate to me. Thus, periodically, I’ll be reappearing to give you my side of the story on whatever topic you’re reading about at the time.”

General Information

What is Biology?

  Anatomy   The study of body parts and their locations   ana  = up
tom  = to cut
Botany The study of plants botan  = grass, pasture
Cytology The study of cells cyto  = cell
Ecology The study of the interrelations between organisms and their environment eco  = house
Entomology The study of insects entomol  = insect
Genetics The study of genes and heredity gene  = origin, birth
Microbiology The study of bacteria and other microscopic organisms micro  = small
Molecular Biology The study of the various molecules and chemical reactions that take place in organisms molecul  = a little mass
Paleontology The study of formerly-living organisms like fossils and dinosaurs paleo  = ancient
onto  = being, existing
Physiology The study of how various body parts function physio  = nature
Zoology The study of animals zoo  = animal
What else can you think of?

In the General Biology lecture sequence we will cover many of these topics and talk about many of these branches of biology. In general, 104 starts with some background biochemistry and cell physiology, then goes into mitosis and meiosis. 105 picks up with genetics, then goes into anatomy and physiology, with emphasis on human A&P. 106 covers evolution, plant and animal taxonomy, and ecology.

Is it alive?

Fern Bacteria
yes no yes no
Cecropias Chick
yes no yes no

Press here to see if you were right.

I goofed it up.

yes no

OK, that’s the easy part, but how do you know they’re alive or not? How can you tell? What makes the difference? What properties do living organisms have that makes them alive? Make a list of the things come to your mind.

The properties that all living organisms share, the things that enable us to recognize something as being alive, are called the emergent properties of life. Biologists say that all living organisms have/can do these things. How does this list compare with your list?

Properties of an Organism:

Precise Organization
The various levels of organization include atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, systems, whole organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere. “Form follows function” means that the form of a body part or structure is related to its function. The form or shape of a structure within an organism is correlated to the purpose or function of that structure. For example, a bird’s wing and a human arm are homologous structures and have the same bones, yet are differently modified to serve different functions.
Ability to Take in Energy and Use It
Much of the energy an organism takes in is in the form of food (= chemicals), thus we’ll need to look at some of the basic chemistry needed for an organism to be alive.
Ability to Respond to Stimuli
Organisms can interact with their environment, including both the non-living components such as sunlight and other organisms in the community. All the organisms within a community influence/interact with each other.
Capacity for Growth and Development
Growth and development are guided by DNA, the genetic code. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a very unusual chemical because it can direct the synthesis (manufacture) of more molecules just like itself, something most chemicals cannot do.
Ability to Reproduce
All organisms can only reproduce their own kind, their own species. Little flies are not the offspring of big flies or of bees, but of other little fly parents just like themselves. All organisms are composed of cells.
Additional Property of a Population:  Ability to Evolve
A population is a group of the same species of organism in the same area at the same time. Sometimes, individuals are born whose genes have changed, in some way, due to mutations. Some of these changes enable the individual to get along better in its normal environment, while other mutations make survival difficult or impossible. Those individuals who are best able to survive have a greater chance of reproducing and passing on their genes, thus the genetic make-up of the whole population changes over time due to the environmental pressures that cause some individuals to live and reproduce while others die. Evolution is the changes in the percentages of the various kinds of genes in a population (and therefore, overall changes in the “looks” and/or actions of the individuals who have those kinds of genes) over time.

Over the course of the three quarters, we’ll be coming back to these ideas and discussing them in more detail.

The Five Kingdoms

Back when I was in school, biologists recognized two groups of living organisms: everything was classified as either a plant or an animal. Now, biologists recognize five main groupings/categories into which all organisms are divided. Actually, the most recent edition of your textbook splits the bacteria into several kingdoms, but for our purposes, they are similar enough that we will consider all of them to be members of Kingdom Monera. All living organisms can, then, be put into one of these five big groups, called Kingdoms:

Kingdom Monera Kingdom Protista Kingdom Fungi Kingdom Plantae Kingdom Animalia
Monera Protista Fungi Plantae Animalia
Kingdom Monera
bacteria (one-celled, no true nucleus)
Kingdom Protista
algae, seaweed, protozoa (many are one-celled, some colonial, some multicellular; simpler organisms)
Kingdom Fungi
mold, mushrooms, yeast, fungus (multicellular; nutrition via absorption of nutrients)
Kingdom Plantae
plants (multicellular; nutrition via photosynthesis)
Kingdom Animalia
animals (multicellular; nutrition via ingestion of food, followed by digestion)

Within these big groups, there are subdivisions which we’ll discuss later.


Borror, Donald J. 1960. Dictionary of Root Words and Combining Forms. Mayfield Publ. Co.

Campbell, Neil A., Lawrence G. Mitchell, Jane B. Reece. 1999. Biology, 5th Ed.   Benjamin/Cummings Publ. Co., Inc. Menlo Park, CA. (plus earlier editions)

Campbell, Neil A., Lawrence G. Mitchell, Jane B. Reece. 1999. Biology: Concepts and Connections, 3rd Ed.   Benjamin/Cummings Publ. Co., Inc. Menlo Park, CA. (plus earlier editions)

Marchuk, William N. 1992. A Life Science Lexicon. Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, IA.

Copyright © 1996 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
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