Biology is the study of life and comprises all levels from the molecular to the global. Biology is the study living organisms, their organization and their functions and biology is a large part of the way our environment evolved from simple organisms and is thus intimately part of our environment. Biology is a very broad field, covering the minute workings of chemical machines inside our cells, to broad scale concepts of ecosystems and global climate change. Biologists study subjects which range from intimate details of the human brain, the composition of our genes, and even the functioning of our reproductive system to the building blocks of the simplest organisms on earth which created our oxygen rich atmosphere capable of supporting higher life forms. Without biological processes you and I would not exist, nor the planet as we know it.
Biological systems in contrast to physical are vastly more complex, their function based on small numbers of units (atoms, molecules, cells) that are not at equilibrium. There are no biological laws of nature the way we find them in physics; the first and second law of thermodynamics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Newton’s law of gravity etc.
The supreme importance of the role of biology in environment can be seen if we consider biotechnology. Biotechnology, as Aldous Huxley foresaw in Brave New World (1932), can usher in as profound a revolution as industrialization did in the early 19th century.
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It will parallel vast other themes the expansion of artificial intelligence, the opening of the inner solar system to economic use, and much, much more.
Biologists tolerate a level of mystery in their work that would drive your average engineer or computer programmer crazy. Biologists can see that role of biology in environment has shaped our very nature and being. Just look at the human genome studies that have been done. The biologists have put together a complete rough draft of the human genome but they have little understanding of how those 40,000 or so genes work together and interact with our environment to make a human.
Biologists, geneticists, and doctors have had limited success in curing complex diseases such as cancer, HIV, and diabetes because traditional biology generally looks at only a few aspects of an organism at a time. Again, we would suggest that this is due to the role of biology in environment which is so complex that the unraveling of these interactions is only now beginning to be discovered.
Biological processes of course are consequences of physics and chemistry, which is why we require biology students to study the physical sciences. But organisms are also historical entities molded by their environment both physical and social, and that’s where the complexities arise.
Synthetic Biologists build artificial biological systems in an analogous way, using individual components such as single genes and enzymes for which the reactivity and the products formed are accurately known. Synthetic biology will catch up even faster when it appreciates role of biology in environment. Assembly of simple synthetic circuits using DNA fibers has been demonstrated.