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What is life?

By Jeanine Nakakura



Biology is the study of life. But how do you know if something is living or not? Listed below are simple demos that I show my classes. The items listed provide room for discussion as to what is living and what is not living.

  1. A lit candle.

  2. A container of dried lima and pinto beans (or any other type of seed).

  3. A cutting of a plant in a bottle of water--I use croton from the bushes outside my classroom.

  4. Baking soda added to vinegar.

  5. Yeast with water and sugar.

  6. "Resurrection" plant (#15-7010, available from Carolina Biological Co.). Plant curls up when dry and unfurls when wet.

  7. Drops of Duco cement in water. (put water in a petri dish and place on an overhead projector for the best effect)

THINGS TO DISCUSS/THINK ABOUT

  1. The abstract definition of life: "The process by which an organism reaches death."

  2. The operational definition of life: "In an organism, a condition in which there is reproduction, growth, development, metabolism, use of energy, excretion, response to stimuli and composition of cells."

  3. Key words: reproduction, metabolism, cells, consciousness, being, organism, growth, energy animate survival, reality, organic, development, response, existence, vitality, death, evolution.

  4. Questions:

    1. What is life?
    2. What components make up a living thing?
    3. What do living things need to survive?
    4. What is the opposite of life?
    5. Where does life begin?
    6. Where does life end?
    7. Is it moral to take someone else's life? (abortion? capital punishment?)
    8. How many lives does a living thing have?
    9. Do you believe in reincarnation?
    10. Is a car a living thing?
    11. How do you know if you are living?
    12. Is there life in outer space?
    13. Do you believe in life after death?
    14. Can we alter the quality of life? (genetic engineering, pollution, etc. . . )

  5. Related topics:

    astronomy, extraterrestrials, euthanasia, abortion, depression, suicide, capital punishment, Adam and Eve, mitochondrial DNA, genetic engineering . . .


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