Common structural features -- Includes structures such as the molecules of life (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids), cell membranes, the genetic code, and the universal energy carrier ATP.
Levels of organization--The living world can be organized based on features of size and scale, starting with the simplest atoms, through increasing levels of complexity in molecules, cells, tissues, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems and the biosphere. At each level of organization, so-called emergent properties can be seen which are not easily predicted from the levels below (for example, the characterisitcs of ice are not readily understood by looking at the structure of hydrogen and oxygen atoms). Also, it is often the case that the functional significance of a feature at one level becomes apparent at the next level of organization (for example, the oxygen binding properties of blood (molecular) become significant at the level of the whole organism (running a marathon).
II. Life Characteristics Relating to Energy
Energetic processes that maintain life by overcoming the natural tendancy of the universe toward disorganization (entropy), including metabolism (internal energy transformations), motility, responsiveness, and homeostasis (stable internal conditions). These are the processes that will be the focus of the first part of the course, starting with cellular energetics, and then on to metabolism and physiological regulation in humans and other multi-celled organisms. The basic unit of energy transfer in living things is the ATP molecule, and, in a sense, that molecule is the center of focus for this part of the course.III. Life Characteristics Relating to Reproduction
These include the processes that perpetuate life: reproduction, development, heredity, and inheritance. They will be the focus of the second part of the term, starting with the structure/function of the DNA molecule and patterns of heredity, and then continuing through cell division, reproduction, development, and, ultimately, evolution. All of these processes rely on the structure and function of the DNA molecule, and, in a sense, that molecule is the center of attention for this section of the course.IV. Life Characteristics Relating to the Environment
All living things interact through an exchange of materials and energy with their environment in complex relationships collectively called ecosystems. The function of ecosystems centers on cycles and flows. The cycles include nutrients and compounds that are refered to as the "biogeochemical cycles." In contrast, energy passes through ecosystems in a one-way flow. Ecology is the study of these interaction and will be the focus of the final part of the course.V. Life Characteristics Relating to Evolution
"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." This is a famous quote by one of the most famous biologists of the 20th century, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and it is the philosophical rallying point for most modern biologists. However, it is also regarded as an arrogant, irritating, and contentious challenge to some religious philosophies. This conflict between science and religion represents the single most enduring and contentious issue in the dialogue between scientists and nonscientists, and it continues to this day (see Northeast Magazine in Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005, Hartford Courant for a recent example) in a myriad of forms and debates. States around the country are constantly being asked to include material in the public school science curriculum that scientists regard as outside the domain of science, such as Creation Science, and the most recent incarnation, Intelligent Design.
Evolution simply means that living organisms have changed through time. On the surface, this seems a simple idea and perfectly consistent with everything else going on around us in the world. Everything changes with time, why not organisms?
Through their evolutionary history, organisms can be grouped into a classification scheme based on the concept of the species (actually or potentially reproductively isolated organisms) and three "domains" (Bacteria, Archeae, and Eukaryotes), and four "kingdoms" within the Eukaryotes (Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals).