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Nobel Prize-winning biologist Barbara McClintock. Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) shown in her laboratory in 1947.jpg
Nobel Prize-winning biologist Barbara McClintock.

A biologist is a scientist who conducts research in biology. [1] [2] Biologists are interested in studying life on Earth, whether it is an individual cell, a multicellular organism, or a community of interacting populations. [1] They usually specialize in a particular branch (e.g., molecular biology, zoology, and evolutionary biology) of biology [3] and have a specific research focus (e.g., studying malaria or cancer). [4]


Biologists who are involved in basic research have the aim of advancing knowledge about the natural world. [1] They conduct their research using the scientific method, which is an empirical method for testing hypotheses. [1] [5] Their discoveries may have applications for some specific purpose such as in biotechnology, which has the goal of developing medically useful products for humans. [1] [6]

In modern times, most biologists have one or more academic degrees such as a bachelor's degree plus an advanced degree like a master's degree or a doctorate. [3] [7] [8] Like other scientists, biologists can be found working in different sectors of the economy such as in academia, nonprofits, private industry, or government. [9]


Francesco Redi, founder of biology. Francesco Redi.jpg
Francesco Redi, founder of biology.

Francesco Redi, the founder of biology, is recognized to be one of the greatest biologists of all time. [10] Robert Hooke, an English natural philosopher, coined the term cell , suggesting plant structure's resemblance to honeycomb cells. [11]

Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection, which was described in detail in Darwin's book On the Origin of Species , which was published in 1859. In it, Darwin proposed that the features of all living things, including humans, were shaped by natural processes of descent with accumulated modification leading to divergence over long periods of time. The theory of evolution in its current form affects almost all areas of biology. [12] Separately, Gregor Mendel formulated in the principles of inheritance in 1866, which became the basis of modern genetics.

In 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick described the basic structure of DNA, the genetic material for expressing life in all its forms, [13] building on the work of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, suggested that the structure of DNA was a double helix.

Ian Wilmut led a research group that in 1996 first cloned a mammal from an adult somatic cell, a Finnish Dorset lamb named Dolly. [14] [15] [16] [17]


An undergraduate degree in biology typically requires coursework in molecular and cellular biology, development, ecology, genetics, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, botany, and zoology. [8] [18] Additional requirements may include physics, chemistry (general, organic, and biochemistry), calculus, and statistics.

Students who aspire to a research-oriented career usually pursue a graduate degree such as a master’s or a doctorate (e.g., PhD) whereby they would receive training from a research head based on an apprenticeship model that has been in existence since the 1800s. [7] Students in these graduate programs often receive specialized training in a particular subdiscipline of biology. [3]


Martinus Willem Beijerinck, a botanist and microbiologist Martinus Willem Beijerinck in the lab in 1921.jpg
Martinus Willem Beijerinck, a botanist and microbiologist

Biologists who work in basic research formulate theories and devise experiments to advance human knowledge on life including topics such as evolution, biochemistry, molecular biology, neuroscience and cell biology.

Biologists typically conduct laboratory experiments involving animals, plants, microorganisms or biomolecules. However, a small part of biological research also occurs outside the laboratory and may involve natural observation rather than experimentation. For example, a botanist may investigate the plant species present in a particular environment, while an ecologist might study how a forest area recovers after a fire.

Biologists who work in applied research use instead the accomplishments gained by basic research to further knowledge in particular fields or applications. For example, this applied research may be used to develop new pharmaceutical drugs, treatments and medical diagnostic tests. Biological scientists conducting applied research and product development in private industry may be required to describe their research plans or results to non-scientists who are in a position to veto or approve their ideas. These scientists must consider the business effects of their work.

Swift advances in knowledge of genetics and organic molecules spurred growth in the field of biotechnology, transforming the industries in which biological scientists work. Biological scientists can now manipulate the genetic material of animals and plants, attempting to make organisms (including humans) more productive or resistant to disease. Basic and applied research on biotechnological processes, such as recombining DNA, has led to the production of important substances, including human insulin and growth hormone. Many other substances not previously available in large quantities are now produced by biotechnological means. Some of these substances are useful in treating diseases.

Those working on various genome (chromosomes with their associated genes) projects isolate genes and determine their function. This work continues to lead to the discovery of genes associated with specific diseases and inherited health risks, such as sickle cell anemia. Advances in biotechnology have created research opportunities in almost all areas of biology, with commercial applications in areas such as medicine, agriculture, and environmental remediation.


Most biological scientists specialize in the study of a certain type of organism or in a specific activity, although recent advances have blurred some traditional classifications.[ why? ]


Biologists typically work regular hours but longer hours are not uncommon. Researchers may be required to work odd hours in laboratories or other locations (especially while in the field), depending on the nature of their research.

Many biologists depend on grant money to fund their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and to conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

Marine biologists encounter a variety of working conditions. Some work in laboratories; others work on research ships, and those who work underwater must practice safe diving while working around sharp coral reefs and hazardous marine life. Although some marine biologists obtain their specimens from the sea, many still spend a good deal of their time in laboratories and offices, conducting tests, running experiments, recording results, and compiling data.

Biologists are not usually exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Many biological scientists, such as botanists, ecologists, and zoologists, conduct field studies that involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions. Biological scientists in the field may work in warm or cold climates, in all kinds of weather.

Honors and awards

The highest honor awarded to biologists is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded since 1901, by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Another significant award is the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences; established in 1980. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Outline of biology Outline of subdisciplines within biology

Biology – The natural science that studies life. Areas of focus include structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Genetically modified organism</span> Organisms whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering methods

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The exact definition of a genetically modified organism and what constitutes genetic engineering varies, with the most common being an organism altered in a way that "does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination". A wide variety of organisms have been genetically modified (GM), from animals to plants and microorganisms. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species, and even across kingdoms. New genes can be introduced, or endogenous genes can be enhanced, altered, or knocked out.

Molecular biology is the branch of biology that seeks to understand the molecular basis of biological activity in and between cells, including molecular synthesis, modification, mechanisms, and interactions. The study of chemical and physical structure of biological macromolecules is known as molecular biology.

Zoology is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems. The term is derived from Ancient Greek ζῷον, zōion ('animal'), and λόγος, logos.

Carl Woese American microbiologist who identified Archaea (1928–2012)

Carl Richard Woese was an American microbiologist and biophysicist. Woese is famous for defining the Archaea in 1977 by phylogenetic taxonomy of 16S ribosomal RNA, a technique he pioneered that revolutionized microbiology. He also originated the RNA world hypothesis in 1967, although not by that name. Woese held the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair and was professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Biochemist Scientist specialized in biochemistry

Biochemists are scientists who are trained in biochemistry. They study chemical processes and chemical transformations in living organisms. Biochemists study DNA, proteins and cell parts. The word "biochemist" is a portmanteau of "biological chemist."

History of biology History of the study of life from ancient to modern times

The history of biology traces the study of the living world from ancient to modern times. Although the concept of biology as a single coherent field arose in the 19th century, the biological sciences emerged from traditions of medicine and natural history reaching back to Ayurveda, ancient Egyptian medicine and the works of Aristotle and Galen in the ancient Greco-Roman world. This ancient work was further developed in the Middle Ages by Muslim physicians and scholars such as Avicenna. During the European Renaissance and early modern period, biological thought was revolutionized in Europe by a renewed interest in empiricism and the discovery of many novel organisms. Prominent in this movement were Vesalius and Harvey, who used experimentation and careful observation in physiology, and naturalists such as Linnaeus and Buffon who began to classify the diversity of life and the fossil record, as well as the development and behavior of organisms. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek revealed by means of microscopy the previously unknown world of microorganisms, laying the groundwork for cell theory. The growing importance of natural theology, partly a response to the rise of mechanical philosophy, encouraged the growth of natural history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marine Biological Laboratory</span> Research institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, United States

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is an international center for research and education in biological and environmental science. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution affiliated with the University of Chicago. After being independent for most of its history, it became officially affiliated with the university on July 1, 2013. It also collaborates with numerous other institutions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Synthetic biology</span> Interdisciplinary branch of biology and engineering

Synthetic biology (SynBio) is a multidisciplinary area of research that seeks to create new biological parts, devices, and systems, or to redesign systems that are already found in nature.

Recombinant DNA DNA molecules formed by human agency at a molecular level generating novel DNA sequences

Recombinant DNA (rDNA) molecules are DNA molecules formed by laboratory methods of genetic recombination that bring together genetic material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in the genome.

Ian Wilmut Embryologist

Sir Ian Wilmut, OBE FRS FMedSci FRSE is an English embryologist and Chair of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He is best known as the leader of the research group that in 1996 first cloned a mammal from an adult somatic cell, a Finnish Dorset lamb named Dolly. He was appointed OBE in 1999 for services to embryo development and knighted in the 2008 New Year Honours. He together with Keith Campbell and Shinya Yamanaka jointly received the 2008 Shaw Prize for Medicine and Life Sciences "for their works on the cell differentiation in mammals."

A biomedical scientist is a scientist trained in biology, particularly in the context of medical laboratory sciences or laboratory medicine. These scientists work to gain knowledge on the main principles of how the human body works and to find new ways to cure or treat disease by developing advanced diagnostic tools or new therapeutic strategies. The research of biomedical scientists is referred to as biomedical research.

Anthony James Trewavas FRS FRSE is Emeritus Professor in the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Edinburgh best known for his research in the fields of plant physiology and molecular biology. His research investigates plant behaviour.

University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences

The College of Biological Sciences (CBS) is one of seven freshman-admitting colleges at the University of Minnesota, focused on research. Established in 1869 as the College of Sciences, the College of Biological Sciences is now located on both the Minneapolis Campus and the St. Paul Campus. The current dean is Valery E. Forbes.

Keith Campbell (biologist) British biologist (1954–2012) Professor of Animal Development at the University of Nottingham,

Keith Henry Stockman Campbell was a British biologist who was a member of the team at Roslin Institute that in 1996 first cloned a mammal, a Finnish Dorset lamb named Dolly, from fully differentiated adult mammary cells. He was Professor of Animal Development at the University of Nottingham. In 2008, he received the Shaw Prize for Medicine and Life Sciences jointly with Ian Wilmut and Shinya Yamanaka for "their works on the cell differentiation in mammals".

The School of Biological Sciences is a research-led academic community at the University of East Anglia. It works with partners in industry on a range of activities, including translating research discoveries into products, making knowledge and research expertise available through consultancies, contract research and provision of analytical services, as well as partnering industry in training both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Ronald Vale American biochemist

Ronald David Vale is a biochemist and cell biologist. He is a professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco. His research is focused on motor proteins, particularly kinesin and dynein. He was awarded the Canada Gairdner International Award for Biomedical Research in 2019, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine in 2017 together with Ian Gibbons, and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2012 alongside Michael Sheetz and James Spudich. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was the president of the American Society for Cell Biology in 2012. He has also been an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1995. In 2019, Vale was named executive director of the Janelia Research Campus and a vice president of HHMI, his appointment began in early 2020.

Belarusian State University Faculty of Biology

Faculty of Biology of the Belarusian State University was founded in 1931. It is a major biology research and teaching establishment in the country, which includes nine Departments and nine Research Laboratories. The Dean is Vadim V. Demidchyk, Docent, Doctor of Sciences

Roslin Institute Academic research institution

The Roslin Institute is an animal sciences research institute at Easter Bush, Midlothian, Scotland, part of the University of Edinburgh, and is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


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