Basic Biology and Genetics (A Knowledge Checklist)

I remember learning basic biology in school. It was a long time ago, and yet, most of this stuff stuck. It’s everywhere, after all–in the news, in other books. And yet, after creating this list, I was struck by the fine delineations, especially regarding the differences between genes, genetic traits, chromosomes, alleles, and DNA. Interesting review here.

Basic Biology Knowledge Checklist

Living thing: Living things need air (though different gases are needed by different living things), water and nutrients; they grow; they have metabolism; they reproduce; they die; they are made up of cells; and they have these visible attributes: a distinct orientation (head and tail, top and bottom), symmetry, fine structure and detail, and a tenuous quality (meaning certain conditions must be met to preserve them; in other words, they can die).

Classification/taxonomy: Organizing things into groups according to their shared features. A living things is classified according to its domain, kingdom, phylum (if animal) or division (if plant), class, order, family, genus, species, and subspecies (race, breed, or variety).

The three domains of life: Bacteria, archaea and eukaryota. There are about ten eukaryota kingdoms, including plants, animals and fungi.

Plant kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from the sun

Animal kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from living, biological food

The human taxonomy: Eukaryota domain, animal kingdom, chordates phylum (since they have a stiff rod that supports the body), the mammal class, the omnivore order, the homo sapiens species and various races of subspecies

Common name: Name commonly used for a species of animal or plant

Biological name: Official name of an animal or plant. Usually in Latin and made up of the genus and species name, but sometimes also contains the name of the sub-species.

Species: Subgroup whose members can mate and reproduce offspring of their kind

Life cycle: Stages of growth and development of living things. Different for different species. (Frogs have a tadpole stage and caterpillars have a cocoon stage, for example.)

Generation: All members of a species bearing offspring around the same time

Male: Boy offspring; fertilizes the egg

Female: Girl offspring; produces eggs and sometimes births the offspring Reproduction: In animals, the producing of offspring by parents Sexual reproduction: Reproduction involving two parents, one male and one female Asexual reproduction: Reproduction involving only one parent

Fertilization: Adding DNA to the egg that starts its growth

Mating: The pairing of opposite-sex animals that results in fertilization

Food chain: A series of plants and animals that use each other for food. It starts with a plant that gets food from the sun, then continues with the animal that eats that plant and so on.

Food web: A series of interlinked food chains. Creates interdependence.

Cell: Smallest unit of living matter, but still visible under a microscope. (Try looking at a thin slice of onion membrane.)

Mitosis: Cell division resulting in two genetically identical cells, each with a set of the same chromosomes. Happens when the nucleus of the cell divides.

Cytokinesis: The second stage of cell division in which the cell plate forms to divide the two cells

Fungi: Living things that lack chlorophyll and feed on living and dead things

Bacteria: A type of single-celled organism that exists everywhere on earth. Most types have not been studied.

Protozoa: Single-celled eukaryotes that feed on organic matter

Amoeba: A type of protozoa, fungi, algae or animal that can change shape, usually by extending out pseudopods (fluid-filled sacs in the shape of arms or tentacles)

Excretion: The elimination of metabolic waste

Parasite: Living thing that feeds on other living things and also uses them as their home

Host: The living thing that homes and feeds a parasite

Homeostasis: Biological equilibrium, when a living thing’s internal conditions (such as temperature and mineral levels) are steady

Decomposition: The process by which organic substances break down into small pieces, which then get recycled

Dormant: Asleep; not dead but not reproducing, as a dormant seed

Evolution: The long series of changes that happen to all living things

Extinction: The dying out of a species

Natural selection: The natural process by which some species adapt and survive and others die out

Artificial selection: The human-controlled process by which some species change and survive and others die out

Mass extinction: The large-scale dying out of many species (and biodiversity) on earth. Happens due to major weather changes brought on by major events, like an astroid hitting the earth.

Adaptation: The process by which a species changes over time to adapt and survive

Biomass: The combined weight of all living things of a certain type in a certain area. The biomass of plants is higher than of animals. At each level of the food chain, the biomass is lower.

Basic Genetics Knowledge Checklist

Genetics: The study of genes and heredity

Gene: The instructions inherited from parents that tell the body how to develop a particular characteristic or characteristics in the body (what qualities that characteristic will have). They are in every cell of the body (except red blood cells).

Genetic trait: A single trait that is expressed due to the instructions of the related gene. There can be multiple traits expressed by a single gene.

Heredity: All the traits passed from parents to their offspring

Genome: All of the genetic material of an organism (DNA or RNA)

Gene map: Shows the arrangement of the genes on a chromosome

Chromosome: The bundles that hold all of the individual genes. They are stored in the cell’s nucleus. Humans have 46 chromosomes: 2 sets of 23. Each chromosomes holds many, many genes.

DNA: Dioxyribonucleic acid. The chemical makeup of the genes. Always in a paired double strand and in the shape of a double helix.

RNA: Ribonucleic acid. This molecule reads and regulates genes. Sometimes called a messenger.

Nature and nurture: Heredity and environment. Both produce characteristics of an individual living thing, but how they interact is usually often unknown.

X and Y chromosomes: The chromosomes that determine gender. Everyone has one X chromosome, but males have a Y and females have a second X.

Dominant gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that dominates the recessive one, and therefore gets expressed in the organism. Most genes are either dominant or recessive.

Recessive gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that does not dominate the other. The recessive gene is expressed only when there are two associated recessives present, one from each parent. 

Co-dominance: Occurs when the contributions of both genes are visible in the organism

Allele: One of the two associated genes in a gene pair

Homozygote: Both of the alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Heterozygote: The alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Carrier: An organism that has a recessive allele for a genetic trait but does not display it. Can pass the allele onto offspring, who will express it if they inherit the same one from both parents.

DNA profiling/genetic fingerprinting: Determining an individual’s unique DNA code, usually by sampling a particular section of it

Genetic engineering/modification: The direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology

GMO: Genetically modified organism

Gene splicing/ recombinant DNA (rDNA): DNA molecules formed in a lab bringing together genes from separate organisms

Cloning: Producing genetically identical individuals of an organism either naturally or artificially. In nature, many organisms produce clones through asexual reproduction.

Hybrid: Subspecies made by crossing two species

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.


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