What Are the Branches of Biology?

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  • 0:02 What Is Biology?
  • 0:50 Biochemistry &…
  • 2:10 Cell Biology
  • 2:52 Anatomy & Physiology
  • 3:41 Botany, Ecology &…
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Biology is the field of science that studies all living things. Although this encompasses numerous topics, biology can be divided into eight main branches. In this lesson, we'll go over these main branches and define each. We'll also look at some important applications for each one.

What Is Biology?

If you look outside your window, or even around your house, I'm sure you can find dozens of living things. If you live somewhere more rural, you might have even greater biodiversity, or types of species. All of these living things that make up your world, including you, fall under the category of biology. Biology is the study of life. Biologists study things from very tiny atoms that make up living things, all the way up to interactions of living things in the entire world, called the biosphere. Bio means 'life' and the suffix -ology means 'study,' so you can remember biology is the study of life. Although there are many topics studied in biology, most can be divided into eight major categories, which we'll explore, from the most microscopic topics to the largest.

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Biochemistry is the study of how atoms and molecules interact to form living things. Biochemists mainly study tiny molecules called proteins, which are responsible for all structure and function in living things. One of the most relevant applications of biochemistry is in medicine. Biochemists study the structure of different proteins to make vaccines, which are products to protect our bodies against diseases, as well as to manufacture drugs that can affect our brains and help to combat illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.

Moving up a size from biochemistry, molecular biologists study genetics, or the DNA and RNA in a cell. These scientists are perhaps the most well known for sequencing the human genome and creating genetically modified plants and animals. Molecular biologists also look for genetic clues to identify the cause of disease. For example, molecular biologists identified a gene that predicts breast cancer, called BRCA1 and BRCA2. If a person has a mutation in these genes, they have a very high probability of developing breast cancer. Women can be screened for this mutation to make pro-active decisions about their health, like having a mastectomy (removing their breast tissue to avoid cancer before it starts).

Cell Biology

Cell biologists study individual cells, a step up from studying the DNA within cells. These scientists study things like cancer cells, neurons in the brain, and bacteria that can cause illness. They focus more on the whole cell as a basic unit of life, rather than just the DNA. They look at how cells interact with each other,and how they can grow and divide to heal injuries, like when we break a bone, or how they can grow out of control like in cancer. Some cell biologists, called microbiologists, focus only on studying bacteria. Other cell biologists, called virologists, study how viruses, like ebola, infect cells.

Anatomy & Physiology

When cells come together, they form tissues which make organs and organ systems. When scientists study human life at this level, they are studying anatomy, or the study of body structure, and physiology, the study of how the body works. This is one of the oldest scientific branches, as even in the 1700's doctors were performing autopsies to look at human structure. Today, there are far more advanced techniques of studying the human body than simple autopsies. Different types of scanners such as a PET scan, which shows brain activity, can look at the body while the patient is living. Scientists might study how diseases like diabetes affect the body or what diseased organs look like. Doctors directly apply knowledge of anatomy and physiology to treat a range of conditions, from broken bones to HIV infections.

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