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Biology Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas - Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations 

Specialty Areas

- Biochemistry
- Bioinformatics and Biostatistics
- Biophysics
- Cell and Molecular Biology

- Ecology/Environmental Science

- Entomology
- Genetics
- Immunology

- Marine and Aquatic Biology
- Microbiology  

- Neuroscience
- Nutrition and Food Science
- Pharmacology
- Physiology

Biochemistry is the "Chemistry of Life," the study of the chemistry of living cells, tissues, organs, and organisms. It seeks an understanding of every aspect of the structure and function of living things at the molecular level, including, for example, how enzymes, hormones, and genes work and how organisms get energy. Biochemists work with all types of biological organisms, including animals, plants, and microorganisms. Biochemistry is closely linked to various other biological sciences, such as Cell Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Pharmacology, and Toxicology. In fact, in many cases the distinctions between these disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred. Biochemists, working with colleagues in other disciplines, have discovered how to produce, through cloning techniques, therapeutically important proteins such as human insulin and blood clotting factors. Biochemists also developed DNA fingerprinting, which is used in forensic science and in the diagnosis of inherited disease. (Source: adapted from The Biochemical Society)

   Related Associations:
       The Biochemical Society

   Related Links:
       Biochemist Evolution Magazine
       Biochemistry Across the School Curriculum
       Glossary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Bioinformatics and Biostatistics
Bioinformatics, sometimes called Computational Biology, is the use of techniques from applied mathematics, informatics, statistics, and computer science to solve biological problems. Sequencing the human genome was a great accomplishment by geneticists, but the task of understanding the sequences and patterns of millions of building blocks requires new approaches that the field of Bioinformatics is developing. These scientists develop new tools to help search and analyze huge databases, such as the human genome or protein structures. They also create models and derive predictions to help understand the complex mechanisms of life process in an array of organisms. Biostatistics and Biometrics are fields that use statistical methods and mathematics to better understand biology. These scientists formulate models to describe (and explain) underlying mechanisms of fundamental life processes, whether behavior in a population or molecular properties. They also interpret data across a wide range of fields, including agriculture, biology, and medicine. Clinical biostatisticians are concerned with the design and interpretation of clinical research, including clinical trials, ensuring that the results are significant and seeking early indicators of efficacy or unanticipated adverse effects. (Source: adapted from the Blueprint Initiative and ASA Biometrics Section)

   Related Associations:
       American Statistical Association, Biometrics Section
       IEEE - Computational Intelligence Society, Bioinformatics
          and Bioengineering Technical Committee
       International Society for Clinical Biostatistics
       International Society for Computational Biology
       MidSouth Computational Biology & Bioinformatics Society

   Related Links:
       Blueprint Initiative
National Center for Biotechnology Information

Biophysics is that branch of knowledge that applies the principles of physics and chemistry and the methods of mathematical analysis and computer modeling to understand how biological systems work. Biophysics is a molecular science. It seeks to explain biological function in terms of the properties of specific molecule and the larger structures into which these molecules assemble (such as chromosomes and membranes). Sometimes this involves designing and building new laboratory instruments. Research in Biophysics addresses fundamental questions such as how cell membranes selectively transport water-soluble molecules across the lipid structure or how a muscle cell converts the chemical energy of ATP into mechanical force and movement or how sound waves are detected by the ear and converted into electrical impulses that provide the brain with information about the external world. Some of the research addresses questions relevant to medicine, such as the mechanisms of action of cancer drugs or methods for measuring glucose concentration in the blood of diabetics. (Source: adapted from the Biophysical Society)

   Related Associations:
       Biophysical Society

Cell and Molecular Biology
Cell Biology is the study of the structure and function of cells, how they grow, divide, and die, how they develop into larger clusters with unique properties, how they send signals to one another, and how all of these processes may go awry to cause diseases such as cancer. Molecular Biology is closely tied to Cell Biology, but focuses on research questions and techniques at the subcellular level. Molecular Biology has also become synonymous with a set of techniques to study biomolecules such as DNA, RNA, and proteins -- how the function of these molecules are regulated and coordinated. In other words, the study of how genes are turned "on" and "off" as needed, and how chemical or other changes in the molecules relate to subtle changes in their structure and function as an organism matures, encounters a new environment, or becomes ill. (Source: adapted from American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)

   Related Associations:
       American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
       American Society for Cell Biology
       International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
       Society of Cell Biology

   Related Links:
       Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education Magazine

Ecology/Environmental Science
Ecology is the study of where and how plants, animals, and microorganisms live and interact in the land, water, and air. This discipline is concerned with the relationships among organisms and their past, present, and future environments. The relationships include physiological responses of individuals, structure and dynamics of populations, interactions among species, organization of biological communities, and processing of energy and matter in ecosystems. Many scientists involved in conservation of natural resources and preserving endangered species are trained as ecologists. The study of specific environments may have a separate name, such as Marine Biology (the study of organisms living in oceans and seas). Some ecologists have a special interest in evolution and how specific plants or animals have adapted to changes in their environment (often over long periods of time). Others ecologists are interested in the more immediate impact of changes such as the introduction of species or chemicals that are not native to the environment. (Source: adapted from Ecological Society of America)

   Related Associations:
       British Ecological Society
       Ecological Society of America

   Related Links:
       National Wildlife Federation Environmental Education

Ecology is the study of Entomology is the study of insects and their relationships to the environment, humans, and other organisms. More than one million species of insects have been identified around the world. Some entomologists work in the outdoors (fields, forests, lakes, cities, etc.), others in laboratories and/or classrooms, and yet others work in offices, with regulatory or administrative responsibilities. Entomologists, in their study of insects, make contributions to a wide array of fields, including agriculture, health, and forensics. Some insects, for example, are agricultural pests while others are beneficial, indeed essential, to crops. TV programs have also made everyone aware of the study of insects in the analysis of some crime scenes. Insects also are vectors of disease, and studies with that orientation focus on insect life cycles, the development of control measures, and how insects become resistant to insecticides. (Source: adapted from the Entomological Society of America)

  Related Associations:
       Entomological Foundation
       Entomological Society of America

Each organism makes copies of the genes that it inherits from its parents and then transfers these copies to its offspring. Genetics is the study of how genetic information is communicated including: what genes are, how they are duplicated and transferred, how they change in individuals by mutation and in populations by selection during evolution, how they are expressed to produce cells and organisms, and how they can be manipulated to improve agriculture and cure genetic diseases. The consideration of genetic questions has become a component of virtually every area of biology, allowing scientists to design experiments that help them understand normal life processes and what happens when these processes are disrupted by disease. The impact of genetic information on medicine is rapidly increasing, as is the role of genetic counselors, who help patients understand their own risk of disease and/or the risk of passing a genetically based disease to their children. Genetic engineering is a field that works toward treating (or preventing) disease by replacing faulty genes. (Adapted from Genetics Society of America)

   Related Associations:
       American Society of Human Genetics
       Genetics Society of America
       International Federation of Human Genetics Societies

   Related Links:
       American Society of Human Genetics Educational Resources
       Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
          Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention Information
       Genetic Science Learning Center
Human Genome Project
       Kids Genetics (GlaxoSmithKline)
       National Human Genome Research Institute

Immunology is the study of all aspects of the immune system, the system responsible for protecting organisms from foreign invaders. In humans, the immune system is involved in mediating allergic responses, fighting infectious disease, rejecting transplanted tissues and organs, and autoimmune disorders (such as multiple sclerosis) in which the body "attacks" itself. Immunologists are interested in the cells that make up the immune system and how they interact and function including: their influence on other systems of the body; malfunctions of the immune system in immunological disorders (autoimmune diseases, hypersensitivities, immune deficiency, graft rejection); and the physical, chemical, and physiological characteristics of the components of the immune system. This knowledge is used to develop new drugs and vaccines. Immunology also is important to solving public health challenges such the emergence of drug resistant strains of bacteria and viruses or understanding changes that allow infectious microbes to "jump" from animals to humans. (Source: adapted from Wikipedia and The American Association of Immunologists)

   Related Associations:
       American Association of Immunologists
       British Society for Immunology
Clinical Immunology Society

   Related Links:
       Immune System Glossary
The Vaccine Page

Marine and Aquatic Biology
Marine Biology is the study of animals, plants, and microorganisms that live in or near a salt water environment. Aquatic Biology, a broader term, includes not only marine studies, but also Limnology, the study of fresh water organisms. These scientists are interested in the marine and freshwater organisms' growth and development, their behavior, including communication among themselves, and their interactions with their environment. Some of these biologists study a particular organism, while others study many organisms in a particular region, climate, or ecological niche. The studies overlap with all of biology: ecology, genetics, neuroscience, and physiology, to name just a few of the fields included in Marine Biology and Limnology. Some of the concerns of the field are basic research, understanding the world of marine and fresh water environments. Other concerns are more practical, such as how to deal with organisms that foul power plant intake pipes or surfaces of ships, improving the yield and commercial quality of aquaculture, or the impact of ship sonar on communication among marine mammals. (Source: adapted from

   Related Associations:
       American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
       American Zoo and Aquarium Association
Association of Science - Technology Centers
Association of Zoological Horticulture

   Related Links:
       Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Microbiology is the study of the world of organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microbes include viruses, bacteria, molds, protozoans, and other tiny creatures. Microbes cause disease, ferment alcoholic beverages, influence the quality and taste of our food, and are responsible for decay in nature. Microbiologists study how these organisms grow and reproduce and how they adapt to their environment. Some scientists specialize in the study of microorganisms growing in exotic environments, such as hot springs, hydrothermic vents in the ocean, or glaciers. Other microbiologists are closely allied to medicine, studying, for example, how bacteria cause disease and how they become resistant to antibiotics. Genetics and biochemistry are very important tools for microbiology, and vice versa. The extensive characterization and rapid growth of microbes has allowed them to be used as experimental tools in other branches of biology. For example, the modern study of how genes work depended on pioneering studies of gene function in viruses and bacteria. (Source: adapted from American Society for Microbiology)

   Related Associations:
       American Society for Microbiology
       Waksman Foundation for Microbiology

   Related Links:

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by JGPerpich, LLC and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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