C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s a n d c l a s s i f i c a t i o n o f l i v i n g o r g a n i s m s
To understand that living things differ fromnon-living thingsTo be able to list the characteristics of living thingsTo understand that energy must be expended tomaintain life
You may see other similar lists of these characteristics
using slightly different words. You can rememberthis particular list using the word
. It gives
its name. This is a solution of ionsand molecules that physiologists use to keep livingtissues in – it keeps the cells alive.As well as the characteristics in the ‘ringer’ list,living things have a
that isnot found in the non-living world. A snowflake or acrystal of quartz is an organised collection of identical molecules, but even the simplest living cellcontains many different complex substancesarranged in very specific structures.Living things also show
– the offspringare often different from one another and from theirparents. This is important in adaptation to theenvironment and in the process of
How the characteristics of life dependon each other
Each of the characteristics of life is linked to theothers – for example, organisms can only growif they are nourished. As they take nourishmentfrom their environment, they may also producewaste materials which they must then excrete.To respond to the environment they must organisetheir cells and tissues to carry out actions. Becauseof the random nature of reproduction, they arelikely to show variation from generation togeneration.
Depending on energy
The organisation in living things and their ability tocarry out their life processes depends on a supply of
. Many biologists today define life as a set of processes that result from the organisation of matterand which depend on the expenditure of energy.In this book we shall see:how energy is liberated from food molecules andtrapped in a usable formhow molecules are organised into the structuresof living organismshow living organisms use energy to drive theirlife processes.
The dawn of life
Scientists believe that the Earth was formed from anenormous cloud of gases about 5 billion years ago.Atmospheric conditions were harsh (there was
nomolecular oxygen, for example), the environment
was very unstable, and conditions were unsuitablefor life as we know it.Many scientists believe that the first and simplest
living organisms appeared on Earth about 2.8 billionyears ago. These organisms probably fed on molecules
in a sort of ‘soup’ (called the
)which made up some of the shallow seas on theEarth at that time. A question that has alwaysintrigued
scientists, philosophers and religiousleaders is:
What distinguishes these first living organismsfrom the molecules in the primordial soup?
In other words, what is life?
Characteristics of living organisms
You know that a horse is alive, but a steel girder isnot. However, it is not always so obvious whethersomething is alive or not – is a dried-out seed ora virus particle living or non-living? To try toanswer questions like this, biologists use a listof characteristics that living organisms show.Living organisms:
(sensitivity to theirenvironment) and
.The opposite page gives more detail of thecharacteristics of life.
Biology is the study of life and living organisms