The study of biology has long had major implications for human life. Agriculture and medicine are two important fields of applied biology. People have been speculating about the causes of diseases and searching for methods of combating them since ancient times. Today, with the deciphering of the genetic code and the ability to manipulate the genetic constitution of organisms, vast new possibilities exist for improvements in the control of human diseases and agricultural productivity. At the same time, these capabilities have raised important ethical and policy issues. How much and in what ways should we tinker with the genetics of people and other species? Does it matter whether organisms are changed by traditional breeding experiments or by gene transfers? How safe are genetically modified organisms in the environment and in human foods?
Another reason for studying biology is to understand the effects of the vastly increased human population on its environment. Our use of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources is putting stress on the ability of the environment to produce the goods and services upon which our society de pends. Human activities are changing global climates, causing the extinction of a large number of species, and resulting in the spread of new human diseases and the resurgence of old ones. For example, the rapid spread of SARS and West Nile virus was facilitated by modern modes of transportation. Biological knowledge is vital for determining the causes of these changes, for devising wise policies to deal with them, and for drawing attention to the marvelous diversity of living organisms that provides goods and services for humankind and also enriches our lives aesthetically and spiritually.
Biologists are increasingly called upon to advise governmental agencies concerning the laws, rules, and regulations by means of which society deals with the increasing number of problems and challenges that have at least a partial biological basis. As we discuss these issues in many chapters of this book, you will see that the use of biological information is essential if wise public policies are to be established and implemented.
Throughout this book we will share with you the excitement of studying living things and illustrate the rich array of methods that biologists use to determine why the world of living things looks and functions as it does. The most important motivator of most biologists is curiosity. People are fascinated by the richness and diversity of life and want to learn more about organisms and how they interact with one another.
Humans probably evolved to be curious because individuals who were motivated to learn about their surroundings were likely to have survived and reproduced better, on average, than their less curious relatives. In other words, curiosity is adaptive! There are vast numbers of questions for which we do not yet have answers, and new discoveries usually engender questions no one thought to ask before. Perhaps your curiosity will lead to an important new idea.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.