Biology is the scientific study of life. Studying biology is an opportunity to ask exciting questions about the world that surrounds us. It is an opportunity to dig into some of humanity's deepest questions about our own origins, the history of our planet, and our connections to other living beings (big and small/extant or extinct). It is also an opportunity to dive into a world of practical problem solving and to think hard about possible solutions for improving health care, maintaining sustainable food supplies, and producing renewable energy technologies.
The study of biology is also relevant to understanding issues and addressing problems we encounter every day. For instance, you can better understand how what you eat and the amount you exercise influence your health when you understand the biochemical reactions that describe how the food (matter) is transformed, how it and your body store energy, and how this energy can be transferred from the food to your muscles. Making the decision of whether or not to buy products labeled with terms like "antimicrobial" or "probiotic" can be easier if you understand what the microbes, which live in, on, and around us, do. Understanding the biochemical principles that describe the changes that happen to eggs as they cook can also help us to the understand how similar physical processes may be central to the cellular stress response and some diseases. Your eye color can be better appreciated with an understanding of the genetic and biochemical mechanisms that link genetic information to physical traits.
The study of biology is also important for helping us understand things that may be literally out of this world. For instance, understanding the requirements for life can help us look for life in places like Mars or deep in the earth’s crust. When we get an understanding of how to properly “rewire” cellular decision making networks we may finally be able to regenerate functional limbs or organs from someone’s own tissue, or reprogram diseased tissues back to health. There are many exciting opportunities. The key point is that learning a few basic principles well can help you to understand and think more deeply about a wide array of topics. Keep this notion in mind as you proceed through the course.
Biology: An interdisciplinary science
Questions in biology span size scales in excess of ten orders of magnitude, from the atomic make-up and chemical behavior of individual molecules to planetary-scale systems of interacting ecologies. Whatever the scale of interest, to develop a deep and functional understanding of biology we must first develop a keen appreciation for biological concepts. This involves integrating important ideas and tools from across the spectrum of scientific inquiry, including chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Biology is truly an interdisciplinary science.
The potential application of knowledge is broad
The study of biology leads to a vast number of applications that range from treating (human or other animal) patients in the health sciences, to creating improved agricultural practices, to the development of new building materials, to writing new energy policy, to helping craft solutions to global climate change, to creating new works of art - the list goes on and on. The study of biology can therefore lead to or influence many careers. It is not only about medicine. For the curious, biology also has plenty of mysteries left to explore.
As you go through your coursework, remember to keep an open mind and appreciate all of the exciting questions and topics that biology has to offer. Even though course topics may not always seem related at first, they likely are. Doing so may lead you to discover and appreciate the connections between topics covered in class and your current interests. You'll also find that understanding how seemingly different topics interrelated can give you a deeper appreciation for the things you enjoy and maybe even spark a new passion.
BIS2A - From molecules to cells
In BIS2A, our focus is on the cell, one of the most fundamental units of life. Cells can be as simple as those of the disease-causing bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium whose genome encodes just 525 genes (only 382 of which are essential for life) or as complex as a cell belonging to the multicellular plant Oryza sativa (rice) whose genome likely encodes ~51,000 genes. However, in spite of this diversity, all cells share some fundamental properties. In BIS2A, we explore basic problems that must be dealt with by all cells. We study the building blocks of cells, some of their key biochemical properties, how biological information is encoded in genetic material, how it is expressed and how all this comes together to make a living system. We will also discuss some of the ways in which living systems exchange matter, energy and information with their environment (including other living things). We focus primarily on core principles that are common to all life on Earth and due to biology's breadth, we try to put these ideas into a variety of contexts throughout the quarter.