Evolutionary Biology: Exobiology and Evolutionary Mechanisms

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The Wolf Within. Especially important are his History of Animals and other works where he showed naturalist leanings, and later more empirical works that focused on biological causation and the diversity of life.

Current Research in Evolutionary Biology

Aristotle's successor at the Lyceum , Theophrastus , wrote a series of books on botany that survived as the most important contribution of antiquity to the plant sciences, even into the Middle Ages. Medicine was especially well studied by Islamic scholars working in Greek philosopher traditions, while natural history drew heavily on Aristotelian thought, especially in upholding a fixed hierarchy of life.

Biology began to quickly develop and grow with Anton van Leeuwenhoek 's dramatic improvement of the microscope. It was then that scholars discovered spermatozoa , bacteria , infusoria and the diversity of microscopic life. Investigations by Jan Swammerdam led to new interest in entomology and helped to develop the basic techniques of microscopic dissection and staining.

Advances in microscopy also had a profound impact on biological thinking. In the early 19th century, a number of biologists pointed to the central importance of the cell. Then, in , Schleiden and Schwann began promoting the now universal ideas that 1 the basic unit of organisms is the cell and 2 that individual cells have all the characteristics of life , although they opposed the idea that 3 all cells come from the division of other cells.

Thanks to the work of Robert Remak and Rudolf Virchow , however, by the s most biologists accepted all three tenets of what came to be known as cell theory. Meanwhile, taxonomy and classification became the focus of natural historians.


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Carl Linnaeus published a basic taxonomy for the natural world in variations of which have been in use ever since , and in the s introduced scientific names for all his species. Although he was opposed to evolution, Buffon is a key figure in the history of evolutionary thought ; his work influenced the evolutionary theories of both Lamarck and Darwin.

Serious evolutionary thinking originated with the works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck , who was the first to present a coherent theory of evolution. Lamarck believed that these acquired traits could then be passed on to the animal's offspring, who would further develop and perfect them. The discovery of the physical representation of heredity came along with evolutionary principles and population genetics. In the s and early s, experiments pointed to DNA as the component of chromosomes that held the trait-carrying units that had become known as genes.

A focus on new kinds of model organisms such as viruses and bacteria , along with the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA in , marked the transition to the era of molecular genetics. From the s to present times, biology has been vastly extended in the molecular domain. Finally, the Human Genome Project was launched in with the goal of mapping the general human genome. This project was essentially completed in , [23] with further analysis still being published.

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The Human Genome Project was the first step in a globalized effort to incorporate accumulated knowledge of biology into a functional, molecular definition of the human body and the bodies of other organisms. Cell theory states that the cell is the fundamental unit of life , that all living things are composed of one or more cells, and that all cells arise from pre-existing cells through cell division.

In multicellular organisms , every cell in the organism's body derives ultimately from a single cell in a fertilized egg. The cell is also considered to be the basic unit in many pathological processes. Finally, cells contain hereditary information DNA , which is passed from cell to cell during cell division. Research into the origin of life, abiogenesis , amounts to an attempt to discover the origin of the first cells.

A central organizing concept in biology is that life changes and develops through evolution, and that all life-forms known have a common origin. The theory of evolution postulates that all organisms on the Earth , both living and extinct, have descended from a common ancestor or an ancestral gene pool.

This universal common ancestor of all organisms is believed to have appeared about 3. The term "evolution" was introduced into the scientific lexicon by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck in , [27] and fifty years later Charles Darwin posited a scientific model of natural selection as evolution's driving force. Darwin theorized that species flourish or die when subjected to the processes of natural selection or selective breeding. The evolutionary history of the species —which describes the characteristics of the various species from which it descended—together with its genealogical relationship to every other species is known as its phylogeny.

Widely varied approaches to biology generate information about phylogeny. These include the comparisons of DNA sequences , a product of molecular biology more particularly genomics , and comparisons of fossils or other records of ancient organisms, a product of paleontology. For a summary of major events in the evolution of life as currently understood by biologists, see evolutionary timeline. Evolution is relevant to the understanding of the natural history of life forms and to the understanding of the organization of current life forms.

But, those organizations can only be understood in the light of how they came to be by way of the process of evolution. Consequently, evolution is central to all fields of biology. Genes are the primary units of inheritance in all organisms. A gene is a unit of heredity and corresponds to a region of DNA that influences the form or function of an organism in specific ways. All organisms, from bacteria to animals, share the same basic machinery that copies and translates DNA into proteins. The translation code from RNA codon to amino acid is the same for most organisms.

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For example, a sequence of DNA that codes for insulin in humans also codes for insulin when inserted into other organisms, such as plants. DNA is found as linear chromosomes in eukaryotes , and circular chromosomes in prokaryotes. A chromosome is an organized structure consisting of DNA and histones. The set of chromosomes in a cell and any other hereditary information found in the mitochondria , chloroplasts , or other locations is collectively known as a cell's genome.

In eukaryotes, genomic DNA is localized in the cell nucleus , or with small amounts in mitochondria and chloroplasts. In prokaryotes, the DNA is held within an irregularly shaped body in the cytoplasm called the nucleoid. Homeostasis is the ability of an open system to regulate its internal environment to maintain stable conditions by means of multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustments that are controlled by interrelated regulation mechanisms.

All living organisms , whether unicellular or multicellular , exhibit homeostasis. To maintain dynamic equilibrium and effectively carry out certain functions, a system must detect and respond to perturbations. After the detection of a perturbation, a biological system normally responds through negative feedback that stabilize conditions by reducing or increasing the activity of an organ or system. One example is the release of glucagon when sugar levels are too low.

The survival of a living organism depends on the continuous input of energy. Chemical reactions that are responsible for its structure and function are tuned to extract energy from substances that act as its food and transform them to help form new cells and sustain them.

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In this process, molecules of chemical substances that constitute food play two roles; first, they contain energy that can be transformed and reused in that organism's biological, chemical reactions ; second, food can be transformed into new molecular structures biomolecules that are of use to that organism. The organisms responsible for the introduction of energy into an ecosystem are known as producers or autotrophs. Nearly all such organisms originally draw their energy from the sun. Some of the energy thus captured produces biomass and energy that is available for growth and development of other life forms.

Evolutionary Biology: Exobiology and Evolutionary Mechanisms

The majority of the rest of this biomass and energy are lost as waste molecules and heat. The most important processes for converting the energy trapped in chemical substances into energy useful to sustain life are metabolism [44] and cellular respiration. Molecular biology is the study of biology at the molecular level. Molecular biology is a study of the interactions of the various systems within a cell, including the interrelationships of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis and how those interactions are regulated.

The next larger scale, cell biology , studies the structural and physiological properties of cells , including their internal behavior , interactions with other cells, and with their environment. This is done on both the microscopic and molecular levels, for unicellular organisms such as bacteria , as well as the specialized cells of multicellular organisms such as humans.

Understanding the structure and function of cells is fundamental to all of the biological sciences. The similarities and differences between cell types are particularly relevant to molecular biology. Anatomy is a treatment of the macroscopic forms of such structures organs and organ systems. Genetics is the science of genes , heredity , and the variation of organisms. Genetics provides research tools used in the investigation of the function of a particular gene, or the analysis of genetic interactions.

Within organisms, genetic information is physically represented as chromosomes , within which it is represented by a particular sequence of amino acids in particular DNA molecules.