Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Characteristics of Living Things

Characteristics of living things

Living things have a variety of common characteristics.

* Organization. Living things exhibit a high level of organization, with multicellular organisms being subdivided into cells, and cells into organelles, and organelles into molecules, etc.
* Homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of a constant (yet also dynamic) internal environment in terms of temperature, pH, water concentrations, etc. Much of our own metabolic energy goes toward keeping within our own homeostatic limits. If you run a high fever for long enough, the increased temperature will damage certain organs and impair your proper functioning. Swallowing of common household chemicals, many of which are outside the pH (acid/base) levels we can tolerate, will likewise negatively impact the human body's homeostatic regime. Muscular activity generates heat as a waste product. This heat is removed from our bodies by sweating. Some of this heat is used by warm-blooded animals, mammals and birds, to maintain their internal temperatures.
* Adaptation. Living things are suited to their mode of existence. Charles Darwin began the recognition of the marvellous adaptations all life has that allow those organisms to exist in their environment.
* Reproduction and heredity. Since all cells come from existing cells, they must have some way of reproducing, whether that involves asexual (no recombination of genetic material) or sexual (recombination of genetic material). Most living things use the chemical DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) as the physical carrier of inheritance and the genetic information. Some organisms, such as retroviruses (of which HIV is a member), use RNA (ribonucleic acid) as the carrier. The variation that Darwin and Wallace recognized as the wellspring of evolution and adaptation, is greatly increased by sexual reproduction.
* Growth and development. Even single-celled organisms grow. When first formed by cell division, they are small, and must grow and develop into mature cells. Multicellular organisms pass through a more complicated process of differentiation and organogenesis (because they have so many more cells to develop).
* Energy acquisition and release. One view of life is that it is a struggle to acquire energy (from sunlight, inorganic chemicals, or another organism), and release it in the process of forming ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
* Detection and response to stimuli (both internal and external).
* Interactions. Living things interact with their environment as well as each other. Organisms obtain raw materials and energy from the environment or another organism. The various types of symbioses (organismal interactions with each other) are examples of this.

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