Discussion of all aspects of cellular structure, physiology and communication.
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I am currently a college student at a local community college, with a GPA of 4.0, yet I cannot get Biology 101 down. It seems like a forienge language to me. Can anyone give me any clues or direction in what to do or where to go to understand this subject? Something that is in layman's terms. I will say, this site is fabulous, but still have a hard time grasping it.
What's in the syllabus you're studying? Biology is a BIG subject!
In general, science often seems complicated and scary to those who have not studied it, but like any subject, it can be explained in simple terms (OK, quantum mechanics excepted!!! ), and in the end biology, in particular, is pretty mechanical. Organisms are just 'living machines'.
There are some basic concepts you have to get your brain around in biology, such as:
- the criteria for being considered 'alive' (living organisms need to take in energy both to build and maintain their bodies, plus to reproduce). They therefore all feed, excrete, move, reproduce and are sensitive to the external world, their environment, in some way.
- all living organisms are made up of cells (except viruses!), though very many are only made of one cell.
- all living organisms are descended from earlier organisms in a very large 'tree of life' that has many branches. All organisms are related to each other, however distantly.
- all living organisms can be classified into groups according to their descent from earlier organisms, which is reflected in their structure. Some of the big groups of animals are mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish (the vertebrates, animals with backbones)
- organisms develop into new species by the selective pressure of evolution, which is ongoing.
- all living organisms contain genes, which are portions of DNA
- genes control everything that goes on in the cell, and therefore indirectly in the whole organism
- genes do this by controlling how the structure of the cell is put together, and the functions it carries out (eg, that red blood cells carry oxygen they've picked up in the lungs to the organs)
- all cells are made up of an immense range of complex biochemicals, mostly made up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, plus some 'trace' elements like sodium and phosphorous.
- when genes randomly mutate (alter their internal structure because of interaction with chemicals and radiation that can cause that change to happen), it alters the way they control what is happening in the cells, which can therefore change things in the whole organism. If these changes mean that the organism is more likely to have more offspring then those offspring will survive better than the ones without the genetic change in their cells, and will, in time, outbreed the unchanged organisms. The changes may also make those organisms containing the changes able to survive in environments they previously couldn't (or if their existing environment changes, eg, because of climate change getting hotter, drier, etc), and so their numbers will increase. Eventually, the changes will be such that the new organisms constitute a new species from the one without those changes, and therefore evolution will have occured.
This is just a quick list off the top of my head (so apols for the rough and ready listing!), but perhaps your best approach is to read the introduction or opening chapter of any decent comprehensive biology textbook, as it should run through the key topics in biology.
All the best -
"It seems like a forienge language to me."
Yes. In the first few years of biology lectures you usually will learn more new words than you would in a foreign language class of a similar level. It might be helpful to approach the class with this in mind for part of your study time. Make word lists and use the terms in sentences, use the strategies of a language learner. This is not sufficient however, since many of the terms must be integrated into your understanding of complex systems and relationships -- the approach Julie5 is describing.
The good news is, in a way it gets easier later if you work your way up into upper division biology. In the introductory course you are taken quickly through a diverse set of disciplines within biology, with one week's lectures bearing no apparent relationship to the past or next week's material. As you move to more advanced coursework the classes focus on one area in detail though an entire term. For now you are in a survey course and will keep bouncing from subject to subject, learning about many of the perspectives a biologist might use to consider a living system.
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