For most of us, no matter our age, the question of how life on earth began seems to be an ongoing source of fascination. Even more so, we are curious to understand the evolutionary story of the human race. Palaeontology is a branch of biology research dealing with fossils to help unlock the mysteries of the origin of life.

lab scientist wearing face mask
Humans have a natural inclination for research, even if we don't all end up working in laboratories - Unsplash

Because we are by nature such curious creatures we are always thinking, analysing and seeking knowledge. We feel the need to understand the living systems of plants and animals but perhaps even more so, we desire to understand our own internal human biology and are drawn to all kinds of interesting facts about the human body.

And it isn’t just that we want to get to grips with our genetics and all the processes that go on inside of us on a cellular level; as human beings we also desire a knowledge that helps us to stay in control of our own health as well as the health of our natural environment. Ecology and evolution run thick in our veins.

Every day we encounter examples of life science. And yet within biological science there is such a broad spectrum of specialisation that you could study one aspect of biology such as ecology and feel that it’s totally unrelated to something like molecular genetics. However, all these studies are based on the theories of general biology.

You may be suffering from a flu which inspires you to undertake a little independent research project in a quest to boost your immune system. All this online sleuthing could lead you to discover how the agricultural industry is coming under fire for fresh produce that’s low in nutrients. One minute you were at war with microbes and now you’re getting to grips with basic botany. Things will always come full circle when you start studying biology related topics.

Learners who study biology will usually agree that it’s not a monotonous subject. Many youngsters are surprised to discover that their biology courses (even high school biology) are very diverse, with no one lesson being the same as the next.

Life science may deal with the life processes on a molecular level such as the intricate cell biology in our very own bodies, but it’s just as much to do with things on a far grander scale such as ... the ENTIRE UNIVERSE!

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Every Day Life Science Impacts Our Lives

It doesn’t take being a biologist for biology to have an impact on our lives because life science goes beyond the biology lab and actually affects our everyday activities more than we think.

Thinking About Food

How often do you think about how your food got to your plate?

We can so easily forget that the loaf of bread on the table wasn’t just made from flour, but actually from wheat that grew in soil, on a farm. Or what about the milk we add to our coffee? Thank you cows, but also, thank you grass that faithfully converts sunlight into glucose through photosynthesis so that the cows can chomp away in green fields.

herd of cows in field at sunset
Society has lost touch with agriculture and we often forget where our food actually comes from - Unsplash

You don’t have to be a botanist to appreciate that every morsel of food, whether meat product or plant based, wouldn’t be here without some help from the life processes of plants.

Cleaning Products

Did you know that bacterial enzymes don’t only occur in food, these very same microbes are what scientists put in our laundry detergents and general cleaning products to dissolve stubborn stains?

The Biology Behind Electricity

And finally, something most South Africans have grown to appreciate, electricity!

Sure, there is a lot of talk about alternative energy such as wind and solar farms but for now we rely heavily on fossil fuels to generate our power. The coal and diesel that Eskom seems to have in short supply is literally a fossil made up of the remains of living organisms that lived and died millennia ago.

white wind mills on green field
The pursuit of sustainable energy is being pushed forward by committed biologists - Unsplash

Due to the drastic increase of fossil powered energy plants and vehicles in the past century, we are nearing a worldwide ecological crisis.

Environmental biology is revealing the seriousness of the situation and if you were to ask any ecologist they would agree that it’s high time that we take responsibility for our carbon footprint.

Biology Connects Arts and Sciences

Fairly new to the art scene, bio art is a genre that is slowly emerging with the development of biochemistry and biology in general. At times very controversial, the material used for this art is sometimes the artist’s own body.

Bio Artists often uses microbiology as a medium for creating their masterpieces - Unasplash

Much of the process takes place in a laboratory and often pictures of various live tissues or bacteria are taken at a microscopic level with the help of microbiology. There is a big influence of cell biology and a push to reveal the life that exists beyond the vision of the human eye.

The French artist, Orlan, is a forerunner of bio art and has undergone at least nine cosmetic surgeries where she transforms some aspect of her own body in an effort to convey a message to her audience.

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The Newest Discoveries in the World of Life Science

It’s taken centuries of scientific discovery to get us to where we are now but the last quarter century has seen astonishing breakthroughs.

The Fine Line of Cloning

It was during the 90s that modern biology made an enormous leap with the first successful cloning of a living organism.

Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996 using the mammary gland cells of an adult sheep. Through revolutionary new biotechnology and a the process of nuclear transfer, the first cloned creature came to life and lived on as any normal sheep.

Research projects in the field of biology genetics have allowed scientists to go on to clone a number of other animal species with success. Biologists have even succeeded in reproducing species that have gone extinct in an attempt to rescue populations at the risk of extinction or those that have very recently become extinct.

This new territory of cell and molecular biology begs the question: what about cloning human beings?

This is an ethical conundrum. Already, a number of research projects have come under scrutiny as they tinker with the idea. A major concern is that people will be tempted to make use of gene-editing in an attempt to tailor human embryos.

The attraction is that there is a possibility of eradicating certain diseases that are transferred genetically but of course, with this comes the possibility of determining a vast number of genetic traits such as eye colour and gender.

But while there are many valid concerns regarding the genetic modification of humans there is still plenty of good that has and will continue to emerge from the field of human genetics. One such example is the study of human stem cells which has already saved numerous lives in the treatment of various blood related cancers. The biomedical breakthroughs in prosthetics whereby limbs function through sophisticated robotics has also transformed the lives of so many people suffering from disabilities.

The 101 on Life Science Jargon

Life science is a subject that encompasses so many themes.  For this reason biological terminology can in some ways seem like a bottomless collection of words.

open dictionary
All you need is a little focus on your text book glossary and before you know it you'll be talking the language of Biology - Unsplash

Like every scientific based subject, life science has a jargon of its own that is specialised for biology-related topics and most of the terminology will seem completely foreign to learners who are new to CAPS Life Science. However, despite the overwhelming amount of unfamiliar words, there is a way to make things easier.

By learning key words in biology you can cut through the confusion and simplify the task of learning the language of Life Science. You will encounter words such as homeostasis, meiosis and nucleic acids to name but a few.

Get yourself familiar with the vocabulary in your course work by learning the key words and their definitions right there in your text book glossary.

How Life Science Has Evolved

Life Science has expanded into a very well-rounded educational tool, as it has gradually reflected the numerous new breakthroughs and methods of biology research.

Nowadays Life Science coursework for the FET phase will cover topics like Dolly the cloned sheep, which wouldn’t have been part of biology studies before 1996.

For youngsters still in school, the 1990s probably seems really far back in history, but in the grander scheme of things, two decades go by very quickly. If you think about it, the 90s gave way to bands like Take That and The Spice Girls ... and everyone still knows who Posh Spice is married to!

Other ways that the course work in biology-related programmes has changed is with regards to topics concerning agriculture. In Agricultural Science students are introduced to modern farming approaches with regards to cultivating crops and rearing livestock. The subject is presented with a far bigger world-view on the economy.

With biotechnological advances, educators can use examples such as large scale data analysis in an effort to move towards sustainable farming and explain how enzymes have become a commercial product in many sectors including agriculture.

Life science encompasses so many fields of biological studies. It is in essence the study of all living things – including us homo sapiens and our relationship with all other living organisms.

Studying biology either at school or with a tutor, we learn to understand the connection between ourselves and other organisms and the biological processes that are needed to keep our world as we know it intact.

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