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For other uses, see Life (disambiguation).

Life

Life

Scientific classification [ e ]

Domains and Kingdoms

Life on Earth:

Non-cellular life (viruses) [note 1]

Cellular life

Bacteria

Archaea

Eukarya

Protista

Fungi

Plantae

Animalia

Life (cf. biota) is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and
self-sustaining processes (biology) from those that do not,[1][2] either because such
functions have ceased (death), or else because they lack such functions and are
classified as inanimate.[3]

In biology, the science of living organisms, life is the condition which distinguishes
active organisms from inorganic matter.[4] Living organisms undergo metabolism,
maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce
and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive

generations. More complex living organisms can communicate through various
means.[1][5] A diverse array of living organisms (life forms) can be found in the
biosphere on Earth, and the properties common to these organisms—plants,
animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria—are a carbon- and water-based
cellular form with complex organization and heritable genetic information.

In philosophy and religion, the conception of life and its nature varies. Both offer
interpretations as to how life relates to existence and consciousness, and both
touch on many related issues, including life stance, purpose, conception of a god or
gods, a soul or an afterlife.

Contents [hide]

1 Early theories about life

1.1 Materialism

1.2 Hylomorphism

1.3 Vitalism

2 Definitions

2.1 Biology

2.1.1 Proposed2.1.2 Viruses

2.2 Biophysics

2.3 Living systems theories

2.3.1 Gaia hypothesis2.3.2 Nonfractionability2.3.3 Life as a property of ecosystems

3 Origin

4 Conditions for life

4.1 Range of tolerance

4.2 Extremophiles

4.3 Chemical element requirements

5 Classification of life

6 Extraterrestrial life

and fire. and that all life is merely a complex form or arrangement of matter.[7] He also . he used the term to mean the principle of living things that causes them to function as a living thing. holding that all that exists is matter. For example.[6] Democritus (460 BC). Some of the earliest theories of life were materialist. and because fire moves.7 Death 7. The various forms of life are caused by an appropriate mixture of elements. the disciple of Leucippus.1 Extinction 7. All change is explained by the arrangement and rearrangement of these four elements.2 Fossils 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References 11 Further reading 12 External links Early theories about lifeMaterialism Plant life Herds of zebra and impala gathering on the Masai Mara plain An aerial photo of microbial mats around the Grand Prismatic Spring of Yellowstone National Park. In common with other ancient writers. water. because of the apparent connection between life and heat. growth in plants is explained by the natural downward movement of earth and the natural upward movement of fire. He thought the soul was composed of fire atoms. Empedocles (430 BC) argued that every thing in the universe is made up of a combination of four eternal "elements" or "roots of all": earth. air. thought that the essential characteristic of life is having a soul (psyche).

and therefore the soul cannot exist without the body. which causes them to grow and decay and nourish themselves. VitalismVitalism is the belief that the life-principle is essentially immaterial. .[9] Each higher soul has all the attributes of the lower one. According to him. There are three kinds of souls: the "vegetative soul" of plants. and there is extensive biological material in his extant writings. all things in the material universe have both matter and form. Aristotle was one of the first ancient writers to approach the subject of life in a scientific way. Aristotle believed that while matter can exist without form.suggested that humans originally lived like animals. Nietzsche. the whiteness of the polar bear's coat is explained by its purpose of camouflage. mechanistic ideas were revived by philosophers like Descartes. the "animal soul" which causes animals to move and feel. and developing crafts and agriculture. Wilhelm Dilthey. originating language. The direction of causality is the other way round from materialistic science.[10] Consistent with this account is a teleological explanation of life. but does not cause motion and sensation. This originated with Stahl (17th century). Latin anima). which led to the natural selection of the features in question. but by looking backwards to the past evolutionary history of a species. It appealed to philosophers such as Henri Bergson.[8] In the scientific revolution of the 17th century. Thus. and held sway until the middle of the 19th century. anatomists like Bichat. Biology was one of his main interests. and the rational soul which is the source of consciousness and reasoning which (Aristotle believed) is found only in man. which explains the consequence in terms of a prior cause. gradually developing communities to help one another. Modern biologists now reject this functional view in terms of a material and causal one: biological features are to be explained not by looking forward to future optimal results. A teleological explanation accounts for phenomena in terms of their purpose or goal-directedness. form cannot exist without matter. and chemists like Liebig. HylomorphismHylomorphism is the theory (originating with Aristotle (322 BC)) that all things are a combination of matter and form. The form of a living thing is its soul (Greek psyche.

Later. for example.Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state. These empirical results led to the abandonment of scientific interest in vitalistic theories. which interprets diseases and sickness as caused by disturbances in a hypothetical vital force or life force.[15] BiologySince there is no unequivocal definition of life. electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature.[11][12][13] Defining life is difficult—in part—because life is a process. Helmholtz. suggesting that there were no vital forces necessary to move a muscle. This so-called Wöhler synthesis is considered the starting point of modern organic chemistry.Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells. 3.Metabolism: Transformation of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). DefinitionsIt is still a challenge for scientists and philosophers to define life in unequivocal terms. scientists would not miss life that may be fundamentally different from life on Earth. It is of great historical significance because for the first time an organic compound was produced from inorganic reactants. where life is a characteristic of organisms that exhibit all or most of the following phenomena:[14][16] 1. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts. anticipated by Mayer.Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of anabolism than catabolism. not a pure substance. and it should be sufficiently general that. which are the basic units of life. Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life. with it.[14] Any definition must be sufficiently broad to encompass all life with which we are familiar. 4. although the belief lingered on in non-scientific theories such as homeopathy. rather than simply accumulating matter. 2. and the belief that organic material can only be derived from living things. . demonstrated that no energy is lost in muscle movement.Vitalism underpinned the idea of a fundamental separation of organic and inorganic material. This was disproved in 1828 when Friedrich Wöhler prepared urea from inorganic materials. the current understanding is descriptive.

Variations of this definition include Stuart Kauffman's definition as an autonomous agent or a multi-agent system capable of reproducing itself or themselves.[20] Living beings are thermodynamic systems that have an organized molecular structure."[21] since they possess genes. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity as well as the composition of metabolized substances. for example. 7. Virus self-assembly within host cells has . evolve by natural selection. the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism) and by chemotaxis.[14] Life is a delay of the spontaneous diffusion or dispersion of the internal energy of the biomolecules towards more potential microstates.[18] Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution. either asexually from a single parent organism. or sexually from two parent organisms. However. and of completing at least one thermodynamic work cycle.[22] and replicate by creating multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly. reproduction). ProposedTo reflect the minimum phenomena required.Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment. They have been described as "organisms at the edge of life. A response is often expressed by motion. [19] Things with the capacity for metabolism and motion. 6. viruses do not metabolize and require a host cell to make new products. to complex reactions involving all the senses of multicellular organisms. from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals. some have proposed other biological definitions of life: Living things are systems that tend to respond to changes in their environment. and inside themselves.5.[17] A systemic definition of life is that living things are self-organizing and autopoietic (self-producing).[20] VirusesViruses are most often considered replicators rather than forms of life.[citation needed] A network of inferior negative feedbacks (regulatory mechanisms) subordinated to a superior positive feedback (potential of expansion. and external factors present.Reproduction: The ability to produce new individual organisms. in such a way as to promote their own continuation.Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms.

Erwin Schrödinger. a definite relation between part and whole.[31] Gaia hypothesisThe idea that the Earth is alive is probably as old as humankind. Specifically.[35] NonfractionabilityRobert Rosen (1991) built on the assumption that the explanatory powers of the mechanistic worldview cannot help understand the realm of living systems.e. arising out of the ecological and biological sciences. i.[33][34] explores the idea that the life on Earth functions as a single organism which actually defines and maintains environmental conditions necessary for its survival. as it may support the hypothesis that life could have started as self-assembling organic molecules. attempts to map general principles for how all living systems work.[25][26] In more detail. according to physicists such as John Bernal. originally proposed in the 1960s by scientist James Lovelock. James Hutton.[30] Such a general theory. but his idea of a living Earth was forgotten in the intense reductionism of the 19th century."[36] .implications for the study of the origin of life.[27][28][29] Living systems theoriesSome scientists have proposed in the last few decades that a general living systems theory is required to explain the nature of life. Hutton is rightly remembered as the father of geology. and John Avery. life is a member of the class of phenomena which are open or continuous systems able to decrease their internal entropy at the expense of substances or free energy taken in from the environment and subsequently rejected in a degraded form (see: entropy and life). a part with a function." From this and other starting concepts. Eugene Wigner. but the first public expression of it as a fact of science was by a Scottish scientist. a general living systems theory explores phenomena in terms of dynamic patterns of the relationships of organisms with their environment. he developed a "relational theory of systems" that attempts to explain the special properties of life.. In 1785 he stated that the Earth was a superorganism and that its proper study should be physiology.[23][24] BiophysicsBiophysicists have also commented on the nature and qualities of life forms—notably that they function on negative entropy.[32] The Gaia hypothesis. Instead of examining phenomena by attempting to break things down into component parts. he identified the "nonfractionability of components in an organism" as the fundamental difference between living systems and "biological machines. One of several important clarifications he made was to define a system component as "a unit of organization.

Many models fall into the "genes-first" category or the "metabolism- first" category. Phospholipids spontaneously form lipid bilayers. most currently accepted scientific models build in one way or another on the following hypotheses: The Miller-Urey experiment. Life as we know it today synthesizes proteins.Life as a property of ecosystemsA systems view of life treats environmental fluxes and biological fluxes together as a "reciprocity of influence". order-generating behavior of life and ecosystems.[40] All known life forms share fundamental molecular mechanisms.7 billion years. the basic structure of a cell membrane. One possibility is that genes came first[42] and then proteins. life is a property of an ecological system rather than a single organism or species.[41] There is no scientific consensus as to how life originated and all proposed theories are highly speculative. Morowitz (1992) explains it. Evidence suggests that life on Earth has existed for about 3.[39] OriginMain article: Origin of life For religious beliefs about the creation of life. suggest that conditions on the primitive Earth may have favored chemical reactions that synthesized some amino acids and other organic compounds from inorganic precursors. but a recent trend is the emergence of hybrid models that combine both categories. and proteins are required to make genes. which are polymers of amino acids using instructions encoded by cellular genes—which are polymers of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). and the work of Sidney Fox. There are many different hypotheses regarding the path that might have been taken from simple organic molecules via pre-cellular life to protocells and metabolism.[37] and a reciprocal relation with environment is arguably as important for understanding life as it is for understanding ecosystems. see Creation myth. theories on the origin of life attempt to find a mechanism explaining the formation of a primordial single cell organism from which all life originates. Protein synthesis also entails intermediary ribonucleic acid (RNA) polymers. Another possibility is that proteins came first[43] and then genes.[38] He argues that an ecosystemic definition of life is preferable to a strictly biochemical or physical one. because genes are required to make proteins. and based on these observations. However. As Harold J. the problem of considering which came first is like that of the chicken or the . Robert Ulanowicz (2009) also highlights mutualism as the key to understand the systemic. However.

[53][54][55] For most of its existence.[52] For example. However.[50] In describing this work from his laboratory.[49] Recent experiments have demonstrated true Darwinian evolution of unique RNA enzymes (ribozymes) made up of two separate catalytic components that replicate each other in vitro. Conditions for lifeThe diversity of life on Earth today is a result of the dynamic interplay between genetic opportunity. Therefore this "co-evolution" between organisms and their environment is apparently an inherent feature of living systems. As a consequence of such microbial activities on a geologic time scale."[51] Such experiments make the possibility of a primordial RNA World even more attractive to many scientists.[44] Therefore. Most scientists have adopted the hypothesis that because DNA and proteins function together so intimately. Earth's habitable environment has been dominated by microorganisms and subjected to their metabolism and evolution. thereby determining the path of evolution of subsequent life. in turn.[44] In fact. it's unlikely that they arose independently. posed novel evolutionary challenges to the organisms present. Gerald Joyce stated: "This is the first example. which ultimately resulted in the formation of our planet's major animal and plant species. Crick and others actually favored the RNA-first hypothesis[46] even before the catalytic properties of RNA had been demonstrated by Thomas Cech. metabolic capability. outside of biology.[45] that the first life was based on the DNA-protein intermediary: RNA.egg.[52] and symbiosis. apparently first suggested by Francis Crick. environmental challenges. of evolutionary adaptation in a molecular genetic system. many scientists consider the possibility.[48] This study makes the RNA-first hypothesis more plausible to many scientists.[52] .[47] A significant issue with the RNA-first hypothesis is that experiments designed to synthesize RNA from simple precursors have not been nearly as successful as the Miller-Urey experiments that synthesized other organic molecules from inorganic precursors. One reason for the failure to create RNA in the laboratory is that RNA precursors are very stable and do not react with each other under ambient conditions. The altered environment. the successful synthesis of certain RNA molecules under conditions hypothesized to exist prior to life on Earth has been achieved by adding alternative precursors in a specified order with the precursor phosphate present throughout the reaction. the physical-chemical environment on Earth has been changing. global changes in the Earth's environment. RNA has the DNA-like properties of information storage and replication and the catalytic properties of some proteins. the release of molecular oxygen by cyanobacteria as a by-product of photosynthesis induced fundamental.

nutrients. proteins and lipids. years. They also excel at exploiting uncommon sources of energy. gravity. or even centuries.Main article: Extremophile To survive. complete desiccation. To live in most ecosystems. Characterization of the structure and metabolic diversity of microbial communities in such extreme environments is ongoing.[52] Chemical element requirementsAll life forms require certain core chemical elements needed for biochemical functioning. the bulk of living matter. and other physical or chemical challenges. organisms must be able to survive a range of conditions. called "range of tolerance. However. months. starvation. will provide a critical foundation for the search for life beyond Earth. nitrogen." where the survival and reproduction are possible but not optimal. some microorganisms can assume forms that enable them to withstand freezing. alternative hypothetical types of biochemistry have been proposed which eliminate one or more of these elements. [52] Extremophiles are microbial life forms that thrive outside the ranges life is commonly found in. oxygen. and ultraviolet solar radiation protection. phosphorus.[56] In most ecosystems the conditions vary during the day and often shift from one season to the next.Range of toleranceThe inert components of an ecosystem are the physical and chemical factors necessary for life—energy (sunlight or chemical energy). temperature. While all organisms are composed of nearly identical molecules. hydrogen. and sulfur—the "Big Six" elemental macronutrients for all organisms[58] —often represented by the acronym CHNOPS. water. as well as an understanding of the molecular systems that some organisms utilize to survive such extremes. some microorganisms can survive exposure to such conditions for weeks."[57] Outside of that are the "zones of physiological stress. It has been determined that organisms that have a wide range of tolerance are more widely distributed than organisms with a narrow range of tolerance. evolution has enabled such microbes to cope with this wide range of physical and chemical conditions. This list of core life elements usually includes carbon. high-levels of radiation exposure. An understanding of the tenacity and versatility of life on Earth. atmosphere." where life for that organism is implausible. Outside of these zones are the "zones of intolerance.[57] Extremophiles Deinococcus radiodurans can resist radiation exposure. swap out an element for one not on the . then. Together these make up nucleic acids. Furthermore.

[59] [60] Classification of lifeMain article: Biological classification -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. or change required chiralities or other chemical properties. which is toxic to most forms of life. scorpions. For example. based mainly on their ability of movement. The bloodless animals were also divided into five groups: cephalopods. In the latter part of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th.[62] Linnaeus took every effort to improve the composition and reduce the length of the many-worded names by abolishing . people have divided organisms into the classes of plants and animals. in addition to what we now define as insects). careful study of animals commenced and was gradually extended until it formed a sufficient body of knowledge to serve as an anatomical basis for classification. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown. still used. birds. He divided the blooded animals into five groups: viviparous quadrupeds (mammals). insects (which also included the spiders. In the late 1740s. the recently discovered GFAJ-1 bacteria in Mono Lake.Traditionally. Life is divided into domains. to formulate the scientific name of every species. Carolus Linnaeus introduced his method. fishes and whales. oviparous quadrupeds (reptiles and amphibians). He classified all living organisms known at that time as either a plant or an animal. it was the grandest biological synthesis of the time and remained the ultimate authority for many centuries after his death. crustaceans. shelled animals (such as most molluscs and echinoderms) and "zoophytes. The first known attempt to classify organisms was conducted by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC). which can be compared with the concepts of vertebrates and invertebrates respectively. which is an example of definition by genus and differentia.[61] The exploration of the American continent revealed large numbers of new plants and animals that needed descriptions and classification. California may be able to partially substitute phosphorus with arsenic. and centipedes. Aristotle distinguished animals with blood from animals without blood (or at least without red blood).list. which are subdivided into further groups." Though Aristotle's work in zoology was not without errors.

but were united by Haeckel in his kingdom protista. The fungi were originally treated as plants.[67] Since the 1960s a trend called cladistics has emerged. thus partially avoiding the problem but acknowledged their special status. As it turned out. should this be implemented. It is unclear.[65] The classification of eukaryotes is still controversial. Linnaeus separated nomenclature from taxonomy.unnecessary rhetoric.[63] The problem was eventually solved by Whittaker. molecular biology and virology developed. such as viruses and viroids. metabolism and do not grow or respond to their environments. He later placed them back in Plantae. Sometimes these entities are considered to be alive but others argue that viruses are not living organisms since they lack characteristics such as cell membrane. with protist taxonomy especially problematic. and the fields of cell biology and microbiology were created. how the different codes will coexist. For a short period Linnaeus had placed them in the taxon Vermes in Animalia. Viruses can however be classed into "species" based on their biology and genetics but many aspects of such a classification remain controversial. when he gave them their own kingdom in his five-kingdom system. This convention for naming species is referred to as binomial nomenclature. eventually this kingdom would be divided in two separate groups. Copeland classified the Fungi in his Protoctista. arranging taxa in an evolutionary or phylogenetic tree. By consistently using his system. the Bacteria and the Archaea.[68] .[66] As microbiology.[64] As new discoveries enabled us to study cells and microorganisms. introducing new descriptive terms and defining their meaning with an unprecedented precision. new groups of life were revealed. leading to the six-kingdom system and eventually to the current three- domain system. later the group of prokaryotes were split off in the kingdom Monera. the fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. non-cellular reproducing agents were discovered. These new organisms were originally described separately in protozoa as animals and protophyta/thallophyta as plants.

Linnaeus 1735[69] 2 kingdoms Haeckel 1866[70] 3 kingdoms Chatton 1925[71][72] 2 empires Copeland 1938[63][73] 4 kingdoms Whittaker 1969[74] 5 kingdoms Woese et al. 1977[75][76] 6 kingdoms Woese et al. 1990[65] 3 domains Cavalier-Smith 2004[77] 6 kingdoms (not treated) Protista Prokaryota Mychota Monera Eubacteria Bacteria Bacteria Archaebacteria Archaea Eukaryota Protoctista Protista Protista Eukarya Protozoa Chromista Vegetabilia Plantae Plantae Plantae Plantae Plantae Protoctista Fungi Fungi Fungi Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia .

Depending on those values.Extraterrestrial lifeMain articles: Extraterrestrial life and astrobiology Panspermia hypothesisEarth is the only planet in the universe known to harbor life. but scientists disagree on many of the values of variables in this equation.[78][79] After death. Stars more massive than the Sun have a larger habitable zone. also called exogenesis. the equation may either suggest that life arises frequently or infrequently. The inner and outer radii of this zone vary with the luminosity of the star. The location of the star within a galaxy may also have an impact on the likelihood of life forming. The Drake equation. Panspermia. is a hypothesis proposing that life originated elsewhere in the universe and was subsequently transferred to Earth in the form of spores perhaps via meteorites. but will remain on the main sequence for a shorter time interval during which life can evolve. has been used to discuss the probability of life elsewhere. Small red dwarf stars have the opposite problem. as does the time interval during which the zone will survive. stars in the intermediate mass range such as the Sun may possess the optimal conditions for Earth-like life to develop. DeathMain article: Death Death is the permanent termination of all vital functions or life processes in an organism or cell. comets or cosmic dust. returning it to the environment for reuse in the food chain. the remains of an organism become part of the biogeochemical cycle. Organisms may be consumed by a predator or a scavenger and leftover organic material may then be further decomposed by detritivores. compounded with higher levels of magnetic activity and the effects of tidal locking from close orbits. However. . this hypothesis does not help explain the ultimate origin of life. Hence. organisms which recycle detritus. The region around a main sequence star that could support Earth-like life on an Earth-like planet is known as the habitable zone. which relates the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact.

The totality of fossils.[82] however. Because a species' potential range may be very large. Many religions maintain faith in either some kind of afterlife. over 99% of all the species that have ever lived have gone extinct. Species become extinct when they are no longer able to survive in changing habitat or against superior competition. because there is little consensus over how to define life. determining when death has occurred requires drawing precise conceptual boundaries between life and death. both discovered and undiscovered.[80] However.[81] The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of that species. Death would seem to refer to either the moment at which life ends. ExtinctionMain article: Extinction Extinction is the gradual process by which a group of taxa or species dies out. a few billion years old. fossils range in age from the youngest at the start of the Holocene Epoch to the oldest from the Archaean Eon. Over the history of the Earth. and their placement in fossil-containing rock formations and sedimentary layers (strata) is known as the fossil record. See alsoAlpha taxonomy Artificial life Biological immortality Biology—the study of life Carbon-based life .000 years ago. however. determining this moment is difficult.[84] Hence.One of the challenges in defining death is in distinguishing it from life.[83] FossilsMain article: Fossil Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals. This is problematic. reincarnation. The nature of death has for millennia been a central concern of the world's religious traditions and of philosophical inquiry. or when the state that follows life begins. and is usually done retrospectively after a period of apparent absence. mass extinctions may have accelerated evolution by providing opportunities for new groups of organisms to diversify. and other organisms from the remote past. or resurrection. Such a preserved specimen is called a "fossil" if it is older than the arbitrary date of 10. plants. reducing biodiversity.

Cell Conway's Game of Life Entropy and life Evolutionary history of life Extraterrestrial life Extremophile Gaia hypothesis Genetics Genetic engineering Hierarchy of life Kingdom (biology) Life form Life on Mars Meaning of life Nature Non-cellular life Organic life Organism Origin of life Personal life Phylogenetics Prehistoric life Prion Quality of life Silicon-based life Synthetic life .

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