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Concepts of Biology: OpenStax

Good news! This book has been updated and revised. An adaptation of this book can be found here: openlibrary.ecampusontario.ca

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Concepts of Biology Cover is copyrighted by Rice University. It is not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.

Description: Published by OpenStax College, Concepts of Biology is designed for the single-semester introduction to biology course for non-science majors, which for many students is their only college-level science course. As such, this course represents an important opportunity for students to develop the necessary knowledge, tools, and skills to make informed decisions as they continue with their lives. Rather than being mired down with facts and vocabulary, the typical non-science major student needs information presented in a way that is easy to read and understand. Even more importantly, the content should be meaningful. Students do much better when they understand why biology is relevant to their everyday lives. For these reasons, Concepts of Biology is grounded on an evolutionary basis and includes exciting features that highlight careers in the biological sciences and everyday applications of the concepts at hand. We also strive to show the interconnectedness of topics within this extremely broad discipline. In order to meet the needs of today’s instructors and students, we maintain the overall organization and coverage found in most syllabi for this course. Instructors can customize Concepts of Biology, adapting it to the approach that works best in their classroom. Concepts of Biology also includes an innovative art program that incorporates critical thinking and clicker questions to help students understand—and apply—key concepts.

Author: Samantha Fowler, Clayton State University , Rebecca Roush, Sandhills Community College, James Wise, Hampton University

Original source: openstaxcollege.org

Adoption (faculty): Contact us if you are using this textbook in your course

Adaptations: Support for adapting an open textbook

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Concepts of Biology: OpenStax by Samantha Fowler, Clayton State University , Rebecca Roush, Sandhills Community College, James Wise, Hampton University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Review the Canadian edition of this book here

Reviews for ''

Number of reviews: 2
Average Rating: 4.25 out of 5

1. Reviewed by: Gigi Hoi
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Graduate student and teaching assistance
  • Overall Rating: 3.8 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text is very detailed (overly detailed at times, e.g. page 149 discussion about cancer) in terms of physiology, but not so much evolution and ecology.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Found quite a lot of error in this regard, including:
i.Inaccurate info
e.g. page 38 figure 2.6 should be delta-negative on the oxygen atom

ii.Redundant info
e.g. page 74 the first and last sentences of the first paragraph is essentially the same

iii.Uninformative sentences
e.g. page 160 “The only source of variation in asexual organisms is mutation. This is the ultimate source of variation in sexual organisms” [what is?????]

iv.Inappropriate examples
e.g. page 161 evolution in action: the example given describes the coevolution of 2 sexual organisms, which I fail to see what the authors are trying to demonstrate. The more appropriate example would consist of the coevolution between 1 sexual and 1 asexual organism: the sexual organism has the potential to generate lots of variation through sex and recombination, yet the asexual organism is not that far behind as although its only means of generating variation is via mutation, they typically reproduce much faster, thus, in the same amount of time, an asexual organism would be able to generate at least the same amount of variation as a sexual organism (typically, the asexual will generate more variation). The more foundamental issue with this box is that it is using competition to justify the need to have “ongoing variation”. This is inappropriate because there is no need to justify the need for variation. Mutations and recombination happens, generating variation. That’s it. There is no particular purpose for variation. Likewise with natural selection. It is just a mechanism.

v.Missing info
e.g. no discussion on null vs alternate hypotheses, instead, the really confusing terms “the other hypotheses (page 24)” and “alternative hypotheses (page 25)” was used

vi.Misuse of technical terminology
e.g. page 74 3rd paragraph on form fits function: “it is important to point out that muscle cells have a very high concentration of mitochondria because muscle cells need a lot of energy to contract”. Need is not a good word to use here. We observed that there are a lot of mitochondria in muscle cells, but muscle cells didn’t get mitochondria because they need mitochondria. As an analogy, giraffes didn’t have long neck because they need to eat leaves up high, but that those giraffes who happen to have longer necks survived better because they can eat leaves that are higher up, therefore, overtime, the mean neck length of giraffes in a population increased. Same with muscle cells. Once upon a time, our ancestors whose muscle cells have more mitochondria, and thus giving them more strength, survived better than those who didn’t have as much mitochondria in their muscle cell, thus, today, our muscles have a lot of mitochondria in them
e.g. page160 “the fact that most eukaryotes reproduce sexually is evidence of is evolutionary success”. Firstly, this begs the questions of 1) are eukaryotes “more successful” than prokaryotes? But prokaryotes are much more diverse and abundant... and 2) then why are the majority of prokaryotes not reproducing sexually? Secondly, this is a rather important philosophical issue here: when a trait is abundant it doesn’t automatically mean it is successful nor adaptive. Although in this particular case, arguably, sexual reproduction has its advantages, it also has tones of disadvantages. Either way, this is certainly something that we need to caution the students – to not make such a conceptual mistake

vii.Figures that are not referred to in text
e.g. figure 1.14 on page 21

viii.Figures that are clearly taken from an outside source (or redrawn with data from an outside source) but are not referenced
e.g. figure 11.4 on page 258

ix.Grammatical mistakes
e.g. P22 first paragraph: “Science has cannot (???) investigate these areas because…”

•I’m also having trouble agreeing with the authors’ discussion on the epistemology of science: I don’t think the scientific method was well discussed, and certainly does not reflect what being a scientist is like. First of all, there was absolutely no discussion of null vs alternate hypotheses (authors did very confusingly used the term alternative hypotheses, which is a good thing to mention but just used confusingly). This is an important issue when teaching how to think about science. Not only is it crucial because that is how statistics work, but also because there exist a grey area where ones results are simply inconclusive (high p, low power).
e.g. P 27 second to last paragraph “The experimental results must be consistent with the findings of other scientists” that is just not true! When inconsistences and contradictory evidences are found, they are debated to see why that is the case. To the best of my understanding that is how science works, as clearly nobody knows what “the truth” is, it’s all up for debate. Science is also a very dynamic field that keeps renewing itself, and scientists also continue to learn from past mistakes. An early emphasis on epistemology is exceptionally important to science education, not only for the mentoring and investment in future scientists, but it is simply a necessary investment in the logical thinking of every single person.

•A complete list of errors found is available upon request

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

•Yes – most of the “in action” boxes are up-to-date.
•Yes – necessary updates will be relatively easy as one would most likely want to update the “in action” boxes

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

•Some of the headers were confusing (e.g. the scientific method was describe under the header ‘hypothesis testing’ but really should have been the other way around)

•Redundant information may frustrate readers (e.g. the scientific method was described in the paragraph preceding the header ‘hypothesis testing’ but was described again under said header)

•Some sentences were phrased awkwardly: technically they are not wrong, just not how they are typically discussed by other people (e.g. P11 3rd paragraph last sentence: “As environment changes, natural selection causes the characteristics of the individual in a population to track those changes”). As this is an introductory textbook aimed at a wide audience, would be better to use standardized terminology so that the student can more easily relate to other material they may read

Clarity Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

•Yes – especially the “form fits function” idea, which was mentioned multiple times throughout the text. I can see this as the authors’ attempt to mesh evolution and ecology with physiology, which I applaud, but I do not think the adaptationist paradigm was well discussed. Please see other sections for comments.

Consistency Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

•Yes – but some headers are confusing
e.g. the scientific method was describe under the header ‘hypothesis testing’ but really should have been the other way around
e.g. the header of section 4.4 should be anaerobic respiration, and fermentation an example of that

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

•Would make more sense if the structure of DNA is not introduced at the beginning of the section along with “the genome”

•Why not put the whole chapter 9 (molecular biology) right after genome and before cell cycle? And rename it to something else (maybe DNA replication) because calling it molecular biology is misleading as to what the filed actually does

•Patterns of inheritance seem completely out of place – would lump together with evolution stuff

•Biotechnology a great chapter to have, but may consider adding a chapter on epigenetics

•Chapter 11: would be interesting and useful to add section on evolutionary medicine

•What is “determining evolutionary relationships”? Do you need drawing phylogenetic trees?

•Why are chapters 12-15 not 1 chapter?

•In “organizing life on earth”, how is this organization discussed? Since it came after evolution, one would expect taxonomy and phylogeny to be both discussed here

•The body systems: since the nervous and endocrine systems actually controls all the other systems, it would make sense to discuss them first

•Why is viruses a section in chapter 17 The immune system and disease, but not other things that would stimulate an immune response?

•Unit 6 ecology: it seems that only marcoecology is discussed in this textbook. Clearly microecology (and perhaps even molecular ecology) is of great interest. I can see how this chapter is set up to discuss conversation ecology as an application of ecology, however, understanding mircoecology is also crucial to such application. Ecology also has a much broader application than just for conservation! E.g. vector ecology is an important component of infectious disease eradication

•In general, this textbook doesn’t seem to flow. You simply cannot discuss evolution and ecology separately! And when taught well, an understanding of evolution would make the rest of the course (e.g. physiology) so much easier to understand. Recommended organization of topics: how to do science -> diversity of life -> evolution and ecology -> patterns of inheritance -> cell cycle -> cellular processes -> physiology -> biotech

Organization Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

•Sections could be separated better; switch to new page when appropriate (e.g. page 13)

•Type set could be done better
e.g. page 103 there is a lone paragraph in between art connection and concept in action that I almost missed, but contained a really crucial concept. Perhaps move this paragraph to the blank space in the previous page

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

As mentioned before, the text did contain some grammatical mistakes
e.g. P22 first paragraph: “Science has cannot (???) investigate these areas because…”

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

No – in fact, I was quite happy to see on page 276 Other theories should be taught

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

2. Reviewed by: Tanya Procyshyn
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Teaching Assistant / Graduate Student
  • Overall Rating: 4.7 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The main areas of biology - from cell biology to evolution to ecology to genetics - are all covered at a level appropriate for an introductory biology text. Overall, this text is very comprehensive and builds upon the material in a logical way. There is also a useful glossary and index.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Overall, the content was accurate and unbiased. The following errors or opportunities for improvement were noted:

p. 23. Why are the terms "null hypothesis" and "alternative hypothesis" not used in the Hypothesis Testing section? This would also be a good opportunity to mention p-values and a link to an online resource on statistics in the biological sciences.

p. 160: Confusing sentence, possibly due to a typo: "The only source of variation in asexual organisms is mutation. This is the ultimate source of variation in sexual organisms." It would be clearer to say that sexual organisms also obtain variation through mutation and sexual reproduction.

p. 161: The explanation of the Red Queen Hypothesis would be more effective if the line "The Red Queen’s catchphrase was, “It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.” This is an apt description of coevolution between competing species." appeared at the beginning of the explanation, not the end.

p. 166, Figure 7.4: This would be a good place to introduce the mathematical formula for determining the number of possible recombinations in meiosis.

p. 256, Inheritance of acquired characteristics is glossed over; a figure and discussion of why it is incorrect would be beneficial

p. 265, Discussion of fossils is very limited. A link could be provided to learn more about Burgess Shale, etc.

p. 268, Peripatric and parapatric speciation could also be introduced here

p. 388, confusing phrase: "All species are obligate symbionts, meaning that they can only survive associated with their host, mainly with freshwater crayfish". Would be clearer to say "All species are obligate symbionts, meaning that they can only survive associated with their host, which are mainly freshwater crayfish."

p. 430, the alternative name for antidiurectic hormone - vasopressin - should also be given

p 599, Invasive or Introduced species might be a better term than "exotic species"; this would also be a good point to discuss attempts at biological controls

Index: why is this listed twice with different page numbers? Whole genome sequencing, 244 / whole genome sequencing, 252

Content Accuracy Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

This textbook is very modern and relevant (e.g. a "Common Misconceptions about Evolution" discussion).

The "Biology in action" and "Careers in action" would make it easy to update the text with cutting edge information.

Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

- Sentences could be simplified and shortened to make the text more accessible to non-native English speakers. e.g. "Climate change, and specifically the anthropogenic warming trend presently underway, is recognized as a major extinction threat, particularly when combined with other threats such as habitat loss."

- Technical terminology is clearly defined with a glossary at the end of each chapter

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The textbook is very consistent in its terminology and organization. I think the summary, practice quesstions, and glossary at the end of each chapter are very effective.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

As the text is very comprehensive it is important that it is well-organized, and I think this is achieved. Chapters from this textbook could stand alone as an introduction to genetics, ecology, human physiology, invertebrate biology, etc.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

For an introductory text, I think the ideas are presented in a logical and effective fashion. I would suggest the following small changes:

- Make Chapter 5 (Photosynthesis) a sub-chapter of Chapter 4 (How Cells obtain Energy) as photosynthesis is one way that cells obtain energy

- 6.1: Start with genes, work your way up to the Genome
6.2 Retitle it "Mitosis"

Chapter 10: Expand the chapter on biotechnology, could add a section on personal genomics

Chapter 11: It would follow more logically that Evolution follows the chapter on molecular genetics. Now that you have identified the "stuff" of evolution, you can understand the process.

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

There were some overly large "gaps" in the PDF (e.g. p.614), and it could be tightened with better typesetting. Overall, the interface was excellent and the links (internal and external) that I tried all worked.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

p. 172 Down Syndrome is inconsistently capitalized

p. 599 "Additionally, human population growth has increased the need for protein foods that are not being met from agriculture." Should this be "high protein foods"?

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

No issues.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Overall, I was impressed with the breadth and quality of this textbook. It has a very modern look to it and lots of high-quality information - just the thing that is needed to motivate more students to study biology.

In particular, I was very pleased to see the section on "common misconceptions about evolution". I think it is important that science acknowledges and responds to its critics, and that the textbook gives readers the information they need to respond to these misconceptions.

I also think the section on climate change is especially appropriate for a Canadian context and liked that it used some examples of arctic animals. Mention of the Burgess Shale fossil sites would be an excellent inclusion to make the text more Canadian.