Mini-dictionary

It’s important that we agree on what stuff means before we talk about it. A selection of words and phrases are defined here for the purpose of discussion.

biological basis – a fancy term that just means that some behavior is due to the instructions that make a living thing, and not, say, the way society affects the way we are [Blog post that used this term]

chlorophyll – a kind of biological molecule that receives sunlight energy and passes it along to other molecules for photosynthesis; there are different kinds of chlorophyll, but mostly it’s the stuff that makes plants look green to us [Blog post that used this term]

ecology – the study of how organisms – living things – interact with each other and with the physical world around them (“the environment”)

epigenetics – the study of the information contained in DNA or chromosomes that isn’t just the DNA sequence (…mostly! :-))

An example: one kind of epigenetic mark is DNA methylation. In a way, it’s a decoration of the DNA, and it affects how other stuff in the cell will interact with the DNA. Think of it like this: in many human cultures, people who are married wear wedding rings. The ring does not change who they are, but it changes how they act around other people. If you see someone wearing a wedding ring, you’re not normally going to ask them out on a date. If you see someone wearing a ring on their thumb, that’s not normally going to stop you from asking them out on a date. Methylation, in some special places in human DNA, is a message that the gene it’s next to shouldn’t be turned into a protein. Other epigenetic marks convey other messages. (It’s more complicated that this for every living thing on the planet, but that’s the idea.) [Blog post that used this term]

evolutionary biology -the study of how living things change from generation to generation

feminist – someone who believes that there has been sexism/bias against women in society/institutions and works to end that (see Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog for a more comprehensive definition and conversation on feminism) [Blog post that used this term]

immunology – the study of the immune system, which you can think about as the way a living thing defends itself against damage from other living things. [Blog post that used this term]

natural selection – this is the casual name for something called positive, directional selection: when one flavor of trait (Examples: trait = hair color, flavors = brown, blonde, red) lets a living thing have more babies that live than other living things, and that “better” flavor becomes more and more common (a “positive” change in the “direction” of a changing flavor frequency) among the general population [Blog post that used this term]

photosynthesis – how organisms capture energy from light and convert it into a form of chemical energy, normally stored for later, which we call food [Blog post that used this term]

phytoplankton – anything that you need a microscope to see that lives in water and uses sunlight energy to make food [Blog post that used this term]

review paper – Scientists produce several kinds of written work. A review paper is one in which one or more scientists will summarize what we know about an idea, often focusing on what has been learned “recently” (so, giving more time to stuff that we’ve learned in the past 5-10 years, not the past 50-100 years). Review papers normally talk about where scientists are going with their new research, too, and what questions remain to be answered. [Blog post that used this term]

sexual orientation – how you describe the people you find sexually attractive (and love romantically). People who are homosexual (a.k.a. gay) are attracted to people whose gender is like theirs – for example, homosexual women are attracted to women. People who identify as heterosexual (a.k.a. straight) are attracted to people whose gender is not like theirs – for example, straight men are attracted to women. And so on, encompassing a lot of ways to be attracted to someone, to label yourself, or to love – but I think that’s enough so you get the idea. [Blog post that used this term]

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) – TNF is a protein that is made by animal cells that lets them talk to each other, and it’s mostly made by cells that are part of the immune system based on information from NCBI [Blog post that used this term]

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