The life sciences comprise the fields of science that involve the scientific study of living organisms – such as microorganisms, plants, animals, and human beings – as well as related considerations like bioethics. While biology remains the centerpiece of the life sciences, technological advances in molecular biology and biotechnology have led to a burgeoning of specializations and interdisciplinary fields.
Some life sciences focus on a specific type of life. For example, zoology is the study of animals, while botany is the study of plants. Other life sciences focus on aspects common to all or many life forms, such as anatomy and genetics. Yet other fields are interested in technological advances involving living things, such as bio-engineering. Another major, though more specific, branch of life sciences involves understanding the mind – neuroscience.
The life sciences are helpful in improving the quality and standard of life. They have applications in health, agriculture, medicine, and the pharmaceutical and food science industries.
There is considerable overlap between many of the topics of study in the life sciences.
Biology and its branches
Biology – branch of natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Modern biology is a vast and eclectic field, composed of many branches and subdisciplines. However, despite the broad scope of biology, there are certain general and unifying concepts within it that govern all study and research, consolidating it into a single, coherent field. In general, biology recognizes the cell as the basic unit of life, genes as the basic unit of heredity, and evolution as the engine that propels the synthesis and creation of new species. It is also understood today that all organisms survive by consuming and transforming energy and by regulating their internal environment to maintain a stable and vital condition. Here are some of biology's major branches:
- Agriculture – study of producing crops and raising livestock, with an emphasis on practical applications
- Anatomy – study of form and function, in plants, animals, and other organisms, or specifically in humans
- Biochemistry – study of the chemical reactions required for life to exist and function, usually a focus on the cellular level
- Bioengineering – study of biology through the means of engineering with an emphasis on applied knowledge and especially related to biotechnology
- Biomechanics – often considered a branch of medicine, the study of the mechanics of living beings, with an emphasis on applied use through prosthetics or orthotics
Biomedical research – study of health and disease
- Pharmacology – study and practical application of preparation, use, and effects of drugs and synthetic medicines
- Biophysics – study of biological processes through physics, by applying the theories and methods traditionally used in the physical sciences
- Biotechnology – study of the manipulation of living matter, including genetic modification and synthetic biology
- Botany – study of plants
- Cell biology – study of the cell as a complete unit, and the molecular and chemical interactions that occur within a living cell
- Developmental biology – study of the processes through which an organism forms, from zygote to full structure
- Ecology – study of the interactions of living organisms with one another and with the non-living elements of their environment
- Epidemiology – a major component of public health research, studying factors affecting the health of populations
- Evolutionary biology – study of the origin and descent of species over time
- Genetics – study of genes and heredity.
- Hematology (also known as Haematology) – study of blood and blood-forming organs.
- Marine biology (or Biological oceanography) – study of ocean ecosystems, plants, animals, and other living beings
- Microbiology – study of microscopic organisms (microorganisms) and their interactions with other living things
- Molecular biology – study of biology and biological functions at the molecular level, some cross over with biochemistry
- Mycology – study of fungi
- Neurobiology – study of the nervous system, including anatomy, physiology and pathology
- Population biology – study of groups of conspecific organisms, including
- Paleontology – study of fossils and sometimes geographic evidence of prehistoric life
- Pathobiology or pathology – study of diseases, and the causes, processes, nature, and development of disease
- Physiology – study of the functioning of living organisms and the organs and parts of living organisms
- Phytopathology – study of plant diseases (also called Plant Pathology)
- Sociobiology – study of the biological bases of sociology
- Structural biology – a branch of molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics concerned with the molecular structure of biological macromolecules
- Systems biology – -
- Zoology – study of animals, including classification, physiology, development, and behavior.
Medicine and its branches
Medicine – applied science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness. Some of its branches are:
- Cardiology – branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the heart and the blood vessels.
- Critical care medicine – focuses on life support and the intensive care of the seriously ill.
- Emergency medicine – focuses on care provided in the emergency department.
- Endocrinology – branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the endocrine system.
- Gastroenterology – branch of medicine that deals with the study and care of the digestive system.
- General Practice (often called Family Medicine) is a branch of medicine that specializes in primary care.
- Geriatrics – branch of medicine that deals with the general health and well-being of the elderly.
- Hematology – branch of medicine that deals with the blood and the circulatory system.
- Hepatology – branch of medicine that deals with the liver, gallbladder and the biliary system.
- Infectious disease – branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and management of infectious disease, especially for complex cases and immunocompromised patients.
- Neurology – branch of medicine that deals with the brain and the nervous system.
- Nephrology – branch of medicine which deals with the kidneys.
- Oncology – is the branch of medicine that studies of cancer.
- Ophthalmology – branch of medicine that deals with the eyes.
- Otolaryngology – branch of medicine that deals the ears, nose and throat.
- Pediatrics – branch of medicine that deals with the general health and well-being of children.
- Pulmonology – branch of medicine that deals with the respiratory system.
- Psychiatry – branch of medicine that deals with the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders.
- Radiology – branch of medicine that employs medical imaging to diagnose and treat disease.
- Rheumatology – branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases.
- Surgery – branch of medicine that uses operative techniques to investigate or treat both disease and injury, or to help improve bodily function or appearance.
- Urology – branch of medicine that deals with the urinary system.
- Numerous other interdisciplinary fields.
- Veterinary medicine; – branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, disorder and injury in nonhuman animals.
Other life sciences
- Affective neuroscience – study of the neural mechanisms of emotion. This interdisciplinary field combines neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood.
- Biocomputers – biocomputers use systems of biologically derived molecules, such as DNA and proteins, to perform computational calculations involving storing, retrieving, and processing data. The development of biocomputers has been made possible by the expanding new science of nanobiotechnology.
- Biodynamics – method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner that employs what proponents describe as "a holistic understanding of agricultural processes".:145 One of the first sustainable agriculture movements,
- Bioinformatics – interdisciplinary scientific field that develops methods for storing, retrieving, organizing and analyzing biological data. A major activity in bioinformatics is to develop software tools to generate useful biological knowledge.
- Biomaterials – any matter, surface, or construct that interacts with biological systems. As a science, biomaterials is about fifty years old. The study of biomaterials is called biomaterials science. It has experienced steady and strong growth over its history, with many companies investing large amounts of money into the development of new products. Biomaterials science encompasses elements of medicine, biology, chemistry, tissue engineering and materials science.
- Biomedical science – healthcare science, also known as biomedical science, is a set of applied sciences applying portions of natural science or formal science, or both, to develop knowledge, interventions, or technology of use in healthcare or public health. Such disciplines as medical microbiology, clinical virology, clinical epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, and biomedical engineering are medical sciences. Explaining physiological mechanisms operating in pathological processes, however, pathophysiology can be regarded as basic science.
- Biomedicine – branch of medical science that applies biological and other natural-science principles to clinical practice. Biomedicine is related to the ability of humans to cope with environmental stress. The branch especially applies to biology and physiology.
- Biomonitoring – measurement of the body burden of toxic chemical compounds, elements, or their metabolites, in biological substances. Often, these measurements are done in blood and urine.
- Biopolymer – polymers produced by living organisms; in other words, they are polymeric biomolecules. Since they are polymers, biopolymers contain monomeric units that are covalently bonded to form larger structures. There are three main classes of biopolymers, classified according to the monomeric units used and the structure of the biopolymer formed: polynucleotides (RNA and DNA), which are long polymers composed of 13 or more nucleotide monomers; polypeptides, which are short polymers of amino acids; and polysaccharides, which are often linear bonded polymeric carbohydrate structures.
- Cognitive neuroscience – academic field concerned with the scientific study of biological substrates underlying cognition, with a specific focus on the neural substrates of mental processes. It addresses the questions of how psychological/cognitive functions are produced by the brain. Cognitive neuroscience is a branch of both psychology and neuroscience, overlapping with disciplines such as physiological psychology, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology. Cognitive neuroscience relies upon theories in cognitive science coupled with evidence from neuropsychology, and computational modeling.
- Computational neuroscience – study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system. It is an interdisciplinary science that links the diverse fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology with electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics.
- Environmental science – multidisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences, (including but not limited to ecology, physics, chemistry, zoology, mineralogy, oceanology, limnology, soil science, geology, atmospheric science, and geography) to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems.
- Food science – applied science devoted to the study of food. Activities of food scientists include the development of new food products, design of processes to produce and conserve these foods, choice of packaging materials, shelf-life studies, study of the effects of food on the human body, sensory evaluation of products using panels or potential consumers, as well as microbiological, physical (texture and rheology) and chemical testing.
- Genomics – applies recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism). The field includes efforts to determine the entire DNA sequence of organisms and fine-scale genetic mapping. The field also includes studies of intragenomic phenomena such as heterosis, epistasis, pleiotropy and other interactions between loci and alleles within the genome. In contrast, the investigation of the roles and functions of single genes is a primary focus of molecular biology or genetics and is a common topic of modern medical and biological research. Research of single genes does not fall into the definition of genomics unless the aim of this genetic, pathway, and functional information analysis is to elucidate its effect on, place in, and response to the entire genome's networks.
- Health sciences – The health sciences are a key branch of the life sciences, comprising all divisions of medicine and medical sciences.
- Immunogenetics – Immunogenetics or immungenetics is the branch of medical research that explores the relationship between the immune system and genetics. Autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, are complex genetic traits which result from defects in the immune system. Identification of genes defining the immune defects may identify new target genes for therapeutic approaches. Alternatively, genetic variations can also help to define the immunological pathway leading to disease.
- Immunotherapy – Immunotherapy is a medical term defined as the "treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response". Immunotherapies designed to elicit or amplify an immune response are classified as activation immunotherapies, while immunotherapies that reduce or suppress are classified as suppression immunotherapies.
- Kinesiology – Kinesiology, also known as human kinetics, is the scientific study of human movement. Kinesiology addresses physiological, mechanical, and psychological mechanisms. Applications of kinesiology to human health include: biomechanics and orthopedics; strength and conditioning; sport psychology; methods of rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapy; and sport and exercise. Individuals who have earned degrees in kinesiology can work in research, the fitness industry, clinical settings, and in industrial environments. Studies of human and animal motion include measures from motion tracking systems, electrophysiology of muscle and brain activity, various methods for monitoring physiological function, and other behavioral and cognitive research techniques.
- Medical device – A medical device is an instrument, apparatus, implant, in vitro reagent, or similar or related article that is used to diagnose, prevent, or treat disease or other conditions, and does not achieve its purposes through chemical action within or on the body (which would make it a drug). Whereas medicinal products (also called pharmaceuticals) achieve their principal action by pharmacological, metabolic or immunological means, medical devices act by other means like physical, mechanical, or thermal means.
- Medical imaging – images of the human body (or parts and function thereof) for clinical purposes (medical procedures seeking to reveal, diagnose, or examine disease) or medical science (including the study of normal anatomy and physiology). Although imaging of removed organs and tissues can be performed for medical reasons, such procedures are not usually referred to as medical imaging, but rather are a part of pathology. Examples of medical imaging include:
- Medical social work – Medical social work is a sub-discipline of social work, also known as hospital social work. Medical social workers typically work in a hospital, skilled nursing facility or hospice, have a graduate degree in the field, and work with patients and their families in need of psychosocial help. Medical social workers assess the psychosocial functioning of patients and families and intervene as necessary. Interventions may include connecting patients and families to necessary resources and supports in the community; providing psychotherapy, supportive counselling, or grief counselling; or helping a patient to expand and strengthen their network of social supports.
- Neuroethology – Neuroethology is the evolutionary and comparative approach study of animal behavior and the understanding of an animal's nervous system.
- Optogenetics – Optogenetics is a neuromodulation technique employed in neuroscience that uses a combination of techniques from optics and genetics to control and monitor the activities of individual neurons in living tissue—even within freely-moving animals—and to precisely measure the effects of those manipulations in real-time. The key reagents used in optogenetics are light-sensitive proteins. Spatially-precise neuronal control is achieved using optogenetic actuators like channelrhodopsin, halorhodopsin, and archaerhodopsin, while temporally-precise recordings can be made with the help of optogenetic sensors like Clomeleon, Mermaid, and SuperClomeleon.
- Optometry – Optometry is a health care profession concerned with the health of the eyes and related structures, as well as vision, visual systems, and vision information processing in humans.
- Pharmacogenomics – Pharmacogenomics (a portmanteau of pharmacology and genomics) is the technology that analyses how genetic makeup affects an individual's response to drugs. It deals with the influence of genetic variation on drug response in patients by correlating gene expression or single-nucleotide polymorphisms with a drug's efficacy or toxicity.
- Pharmaceutical sciences – The pharmaceutical sciences are a group of interdisciplinary areas of study concerned with the design, action, delivery, disposition, inorganic, physical, biochemical and analytical biology (anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, cell biology, and molecular biology), epidemiology, statistics, chemometrics, mathematics, physics, and chemical engineering, and applies their principles to the study of drugs.
- Population dynamics – Population dynamics is the study of short-term and long-term changes in the size and age composition of populations, and the biological and environmental processes influencing those changes. Population dynamics deals with the way populations are affected by birth and death rates, and by immigration and emigration, and studies topics such as ageing populations or population decline.
- Proteomics – Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteins, particularly their structures and functions. Proteins are vital parts of living organisms, as they are the main components of the physiological metabolic pathways of cells. The proteome is the entire set of proteins, produced or modified by an organism or system. This varies with time and distinct requirements, or stresses, that a cell or organism undergoes.
- Psychiatric social work – Psychiatric social work is one of the oldest mental health professions. Workers provide mental health services to the community, including psychotherapy and diagnosing mental illness.
- Psychology – academic and applied discipline that involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviors. Psychology has the immediate goal of understanding individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases, and by many accounts it ultimately aims to benefit society. In this field, a professional practitioner or researcher is called a psychologist and can be classified as a social, behavioral, or cognitive scientist.
- Sports science – studies the application of treatment and prevention of injuries related to sports medicine. The study of sport science traditionally incorporates areas of physiology, psychology, and biomechanics but also includes other topics such as nutrition and diet.
- Related scientific societies
- Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS)
- European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
- International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS)
- Life Sciences Switzerland
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