Excerpt

1.1 Life

Life is the property that makes it possible to reproduce, to adapt to surroundings, and to take in food and create energy from it. These three attributes are also known as reproduction, self-regulation, and metabolism. Biologists have devised several methods for categorizing living organisms. Despite centuries of evaluation, the categories for labeling life continue to be updated as organisms are reclassified, new organisms are discovered, and new approaches to classification are proposed. Approaches to classification include perceived evolution, observed attributes, and nucleic acid similarities. Of the many potential categories, we will focus on what is essential for discussing biotechnology.

Biotechnology applications often require the use of bacteria, yeast, insect, and mammalian cells. Applications of biotechnology to human health may require animal models and human immune response mechanisms. Biotechnology often aspires to exploit the best mechanisms found in nature, and these mechanisms may need to be extracted from the cells of different organisms. These are a few of the reasons that background information on a broad range of organisms is needed for biotechnology.

Unfortunately, the vocabulary for describing and working with cellular and subcellular mechanisms is largely historic and observational. The absence of analytic and predictive models is striking to many physical scientists and engineers. At this point it is essential to introduce the vocabulary needed to discuss living organisms. We have focused the discussion on the topics needed for working in the biotechnology field.

Since the 1930s the living world has been divided into two different domains of organisms called eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Eukaryote translates into “true kernel” or “with nucleus.” Prokaryote translates into “without kernel or nucleus.” We will interchange common use and misuse of the Latin roots and conjugations—e.g., the popular term prokaryotes and the proper Latin plural prokarya.

© 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers

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