Escherichia coli, a bacterium
An organism is technically any living thing; organisms consist of six kingdoms: the viruses, bacteria; amoebas, fungi, plants, and animals. Although they are the most recent objects, organisms are generally more complex than other objects such as minerals. In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole. Organisms fall into two basic categories. Unicellular organisms make up more than 90% of all organisms. These organisms, as their name suggests, are composed of only one cell. Less than 10% of all organisms are multicellular. These more complex organisms consist of multiple cells; in some cases multicellular organisms consist of trillions of cells. The more advanced organisms have cells with a nucleus; these organisms are known as eukaryotes. Organisms with cells that lack nuclei are known as prokaryotes.
All organisms are classified by the science of taxonomy into either taxa or clades.
Species: H. pomatia
Several genera belong to the same family and so on up the hierarchy. Eventually, the relevant kingdom is placed into one of the three domains depending upon certain genetic and structural characteristics. All living organisms known to science are given classification by this system such that the species within a particular family are more closely related and genetically similar than the species within a particular phylum. All organisms are given a binomial (scientific) name, consisting of the genus and the species. To give an example, Homo sapiens is the Latin binomial equating to modern humans. All members of the species sapiens are, at least in theory, genetically able to interbreed. Several species may belong to a genus, but the members of different species within a genus are unable to interbreed to produce fertile offspring. Homo, however, only has one surviving species (sapiens), Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, etc. having become extinct thousands of years ago.
Organisms are complex chemical systems, organized in ways that promote reproduction and some measure of sustainability or survival. The molecular phenomena of chemistry are fundamental in understanding organisms, but it is a philosophical error (reductionism) to reduce organismal biology to mere chemistry. It is generally the phenomena of entire organisms that determine their fitness to an environment and therefore the survivability of their DNA based genes.
Organisms clearly owe their origin, metabolism, and many other internal functions to chemical phenomena, especially the chemistry of large organic molecules. Organisms are complex systems of chemical compounds that, through interaction and environment, play a wide variety of roles.
Organisms are semi-closed chemical systems. Although they are individual units of life (as the definition requires) they are not closed to the environment around them. To operate they constantly take in and release energy. Autotrophs produce usable energy (in the form of organic compounds) using light from the sun or inorganic compounds while heterotrophs take in organic compounds from the environment.
The primary chemical element in these compounds is carbon. The physical properties of this element such as its great affinity for bonding with other small atoms, including other carbon atoms, and its small size make it capable of forming multiple bonds, make it ideal as the basis of organic life. It is able to form small three-atom compounds (such as carbon dioxide), as well as large chains of many thousands of atoms that can store data (nucleic acids), hold cells together, and transmit information (protein).
All organisms consist of monomeric units called cells; some contain a single cell (unicellular) and others contain many units (multicellular). Multicellular organisms are able to specialize cells to perform specific functions, a group of such cells is tissue the four basic types of which are epithelium, nervous tissue, muscle tissue, and connective tissue. Several types of tissue work together in the form of an organ to produce a particular function (such as the pumping of the blood by the heart, or as a barrier to the environment as the skin). This pattern continues to a higher level with several organs functioning as an organ system to allow for reproduction, digestion, etc. Many multicelled organisms consist of several organ systems, which coordinate to allow for life.
The cell theory, first developed in 1839 by Schleiden and Schwann, states that all organisms are composed of one or more cells; all cells come from preexisting cells; all vital functions of an organism occur within cells, and cells contain the hereditary information necessary for regulating cell functions and for transmitting information to the next generation of cells.
There are two types of cells, eukaryotic and prokaryotic. Prokaryotic cells are usually singletons, while eukaryotic cells are usually found in multi-cellular organisms. Prokaryotic cells lack a nuclear membrane so DNA is unbound within the cell, eukaryotic cells have nuclear membranes.
All cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic, have a membrane, which envelops the cell, separates its interior from its environment, regulates what moves in and out, and maintains the electric potential of the cell. Inside the membrane, a salty cytoplasm takes up most of the cell volume. All cells possess DNA, the hereditary material of genes, and RNA, containing the information necessary to build various proteins such as enzymes, the cell's primary machinery. There are also other kinds of biomolecules in cells.
All cells share several abilities:
- Reproduction by cell division (binary fission, mitosis or meiosis).
- Use of enzymes and other proteins coded for by DNA genes and made via messenger RNA intermediates and ribosomes.
- Metabolism, including taking in raw materials, building cell components, converting energy, molecules and releasing by-products. The functioning of a cell depends upon its ability to extract and use chemical energy stored in organic molecules. This energy is derived from metabolic pathways.
- Response to external and internal stimuli such as changes in temperature, pH or nutrient levels.
- Cell contents are contained within a cell surface membrane that contains proteins and a lipid bilayer.