Unsolved Problems in Biology/Introduction

This biology textbook originated in Wikipedia with the article Unsolved problems in biology (started 08:56, 27 Jun 2003 . . Ike9898).

The endless frontier


No matter how much we know about living organisms, there is always more to learn. This book is dedicated to the idea that asking questions is important. We welcome contributions of new questions about biology on the Grist page. Answers to all questions about biology can start with what is already known and then move on to what remains to be discovered, what remains unsolved. The goal of this textbook is to serve as an unorthodox introduction to biology. Each chapter starts with a question, maybe the sort of question a small child would ask, and explores the implications of that question out to the limits of the current state of research and then moves on into speculation about what might be discovered in the future.

What is life? The first chapter is called "What is life?" It starts with some of the history of biology and gives a version of the "textbook answer" that might typically be found in an introductory biology textbook. Related questions are then investigated in an attempt to explore the boundaries of the physical domain we call "life". Why is life on Earth made out of certain atoms such as carbon and oxygen? Are there life forms in the universe that are not based on carbon? Is there a clear boundary between carbon-based life and Artificial life? Does the concept of a non-physical thinking being make any sense or is life always instantiated in matter? The chapter concludes with a discussion of the idea that life is the means by which the universe comes to know itself.

Some Unsolved Problems in Biology


How did biological organisms start? Are the conditions necessary for the origin of life narrow or broad? How are the sizes of cells, organs, and bodies controlled? Did life start on this planet or was there an extraterrestrial intervention (for example a meteor from another planet) ? Why have so many biological systems independently developed sexual reproduction? What constitutes a species?