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Industries & Professions /
Biology and Life Sciences
Biology and the life sciences examine all types of living organisms from cells to plants, animals, and humans. Biologists and life scientists explore the different aspects of organisms including their development, function, and reproductive systems.
Within the life sciences are a myriad of fields, including botany, horticulture, and zoology. And, within these fields are subspecialties. For example, horticulture includes the areas of landscape design, greenhouse management, and fruit and vegetable production.
The origins of the life sciences date back to the ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian peoples, while the roots of modern biology, which is considered a relatively new development, stem from developments in ancient Greece. The study of nature can be traced to Hippocrates’s interests in medicine, Aristotle’s naturalist tendencies, and Theophrastus’ fascination with botany.
A major breakthrough occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch microscopist and scientist, refined and improved the microscope. His ability to grind lenses produced magnification levels of 270 times—a great achievement for the time—and yielded the discoveries of bacteria, blood cells, and spermatozoa. Further refinements in microscopic instruments and techniques led to staining and dissection. By the early 1800s biologists were focusing their attention on the cell as the basic unit of an organism. But it would take another 150 years and many more scientific contributions before James Watson and Francis Crick uncovered the double helical structure of DNA, marking the beginning of the field of molecular genetics. The Human Genome Project, which began in 1990, amassed a globalized cadre of scientific labs to discover all the human genes and make them accessible for study.
Today’s life scientists are primarily involved in research and development. They work in the laboratory or field, and enjoy a wide range of employment opportunities from teaching, management, technical service, sales, writing, and legal support. Among the scientific fields experiencing steady growth are botany, horticulture, and zoology. Botanists study plants and their environment, with an eye on causes and cures of diseases that attack crops. Horticulturists work with orchard and garden plants such as fruit trees and vegetables. They work to improve crop yields and quality. Zoologists study animal behaviors, diseases, and life processes. Their work can focus on the animal’s essence of cells and molecules up through evolution and ecology. The largest segment of life scientists work in medical and pharmaceutical research, technical professions, or education. The United States federal government and state governments collectively employ more than 73,000 workers in this field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Biology and the life sciences are essential for human existence. The BLS reports that more than 278,790 life scientists were employed in a variety of fields in the United States as of 2014. Total employment in this field is expected to grow steadily through 2024. Our increasingly shrinking world—in which more species are endangered or have been wiped out, the need for humans to acquire more physical space for living and more food for survival, and the urgency to eradicate pestilence and disease—should drive the demand for biologists and life scientists, particularly in horticulture, botany, and zoology.