Biology, a natural science and a subject of study, is truly amazing as it is the science of life and therefore explores ideas and concepts that every single human being can relate to.
Many people, young or old, are continually fascinated by our race, including how we all came to live on the planet we call Earth. Biology is concerned with the evolution of humans but also sheds light on how us beings interact with other organisms.
Being a living organism that has the proven ability to think, analyse and retain knowledge means that we have a natural, intuitive curiosity about life and what is happening underneath our skin as well as all around us.
Not only are we keen to understand the human body and how it functions, but to some extent we also feel the need to know how to take care of our bodies and to spot signs that something might not be right. In addition, we are born with the urge to nurture so we also want to identify ways that we can look after our environment.
Biology is present every second of our day yet what makes it all the more interesting is that, depending on the view you take, you can learn about concepts that seems miles apart from others, such is the breadth of the science.
For instance, you might one minute be exploring how your body is fighting off an infection and then in your next lesson you could turn your focus to how nutrients from food grown in the ground can strengthen your immune system. Just like ‘the circle of life’, everything seems to go in a full circle with Biology, with so many aspects relating to one another.
Even though they probably already know it in the back of their minds, pupils studying the subject are often blown away by how varied the topics of Biology are and how much diversity they see from one lesson to the next.
While Biology is very much about learning about yourself (i.e. how to keep up your health, how your body functions, how it fights off illness, etc…), it is equally about the universe and your place within it.
By learning about living organisms and their relationship and reliance on other organisms at school or with a biology tutor, we can discover how to take better care of ourselves and the environment all around us.
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You don’t need to be a Biology student for Biology to affect your life – science does exist outside of a lab and it certainly does impact on your day-to-day existence!
Take food, for example. When you sit down to eat your breakfast, do you spare a thought for the wheat plants that have helped to make the cereal or the flour for your bread? And do you ever stop to think about the cows that produce your milk, and the plants that they have to eat in order to do so? Every single thing that you ingest can be traced back to plants, so we really do have a lot to thank them, and the process of photosynthesis, for.
But bacterial enzymes aren’t just linked to the food chain. Our daily chores can also benefit from the power of these microbes, for instance with manufacturers putting them in detergents to break down dirt and stains in our laundry.
Manufacturers put bacterial enzymes in laundry detergents yo help break down stains and dirt. Photo credit: nan palmero via VisualHunt / CC BY
Would you ever have believed that putting the washing on could be so educational? Next time you do your washing, you can now feel smug; not only about getting some pocket money but because you can teach your parents how the products work!
Last but not least, you may not realise just how reliant we are on Biology in our homes. Although renewable energy is on the rise, we are still collectively using up fossil fuels to provide us with heat, such as oil and coal.
These fuels are the remnants of living organisms that graced our planets hundreds of millions of years ago, which are subsequently turned into energy sources like oil, natural gas and coal.
Now aware of the dangers of carbon dioxide, however, which is released as waste from these fossil fuels, humans are now investigating new Eco-friendly sources like solar power.
While much of what we know about us and the world we live in has come from years of discovery and research, the last 25 years have seen us through a range of groundbreaking discoveries.
One such breakthrough, which you will no doubt learn about during the course of your studies, is the cloning of Dolly the sheep. In 1996, scientists successfully cloned a female sheep for the very first time using adult cells from the mammary glands in a process called nuclear transfer.
The sheep, subsequently named Dolly, grew normally and fully and went down in History as a scientific marvel. Since then, scientists have been able to clone further animal species, even attempting to reproduce extinct animals using the scientific technology to try to save endangered or newly extinct species.
Dolly was the name of the first ever cloned sheep. Photo credit: dun_deagh via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA
Could the time ever come when we are discussing the cloning of human beings? Listen carefully in your Biology lessons and you could find out!
Much like the above discovery, many more scientific research projects have come under the microscope, shall we say, in regards to their ethics. One extremely controversial topic is the gene-editing research in early human development which has the ability to modify the genetics of a human embryo.
Gene-editing could bring an end to inherited diseases, which is of course a very valuable procedure, but many fear that the science could get out of control and might end up with people making choices about their unborn child. For example the concern is that people will be given the freedom to determine their baby’s gender, which many feel is taking nature out of the world’s hands.
However, while some may be against the interference of scientists with the human body, many great things have come from this ongoing research and many are still yet to come.
Two more significant breakthroughs in Biology are the research into stem cells, which can be transplanted to treat blood and bone marrow diseases, disorders or cancers, and the biomedical research which has led to robotic limbs being controlled by the brain using neural signals.
Just like the evolution of the science, Biology as a subject has evolved over the years to reflect the many new discoveries found and research methods used by biologists.
For instance, as mentioned above, every GCSE Biology syllabus teaches students about Dolly the sheep, who marks a scientific breakthrough that wouldn’t have been thought possible prior to 1996.
While the 90’s may seem very distant to you, having not even been born in that decade, 20 years is not a very long time when you relate it to other things from the time (like Take That and The Spice Girls, for instance!). That said, lots can happen in 20 years, and we don’t mean Take That splitting up and getting back together again!
Some of the ways the content has advanced with the times is with the addition of new modules covering things like growing crops, which we now know much more about thanks to developments in the research of cultivation, breeding and harvesting of crops. Not only has our knowledge widened, but our outlook has too and the subject is taught with a whole-world economic focus.
In addition, as biotechnology moves forward, teachers now consider the use of larger-scale bio-fermenters and how enzymes are now used commercially.
As we have discovered, Biology is a very broad subject covering a huge number of topics. As such, there is also a vast amount of terminology to get your head around.
As with most subjects, Biology has its own vocabulary of subject-specific terminology to remember, and it is not all that straightforward. The good news is that, by grasping the key terminology of GCSE Biology, then you will find the lessons and the complex vocabulary that comes with them far easier.
Words and that you must get your head around are Aerobic respiration, Artificial selection, Ecosystem, Genetic engineering, and so on. You can find a glossary of keywords and definitions on revision sites dedicated to GCSE Biology.
BioArt, is a relatively new art practice whereby scientists are creating pieces (mainly in the lab but also in studios and galleries) made from live tissues, bacteria and other living organisms. Pioneers of this branch of art are determined to transform the science into works of art by using their bodies and other living things and by adopting the help of engineers and scientists.
One of the wackiest forms of biotechnology is the shocking and provocative transformations of Orlan, a controversial artist who uses her face and body as her canvas.
Is this art? A new breed of artists use their bodies as their canvas. Photo credit: Andy G via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA
Orlan uses cosmetic surgery procedures to change her appearance to resemble famous images of women in art, using the procedure as part of the performance. Her aim to focus on the power of technology to transform our physical appearance, Orlan’s work also pushes boundaries in terms of human health with her numerous experiments with going under the knife. That sure is dedication to one’s craft!