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What are the Characteristics of Life?

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Do you need help remembering the characteristics of life? Use this study guide and the included tips to help you brush up on your memorization skills on this subject.

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    How It Works

    The characteristics of life are simply traits that are found in living things. These traits are what make living things different from nonliving things. Science is about observation, documentation, experiments and results. Therefore, science has developed a series of tests in which the results can be measured and documented to come to a conclusion or result.

    The characteristics of life are in a sense standards of measurement or tests that tell us if the object is a living thing or nonliving thing. There are 7 traits or characteristics of life that answer the question "Is it a living thing?". These characteristics must be present in a group of living things to allow the object to be categorized as living.

    In other words, if one animal in a species does not meet the criteria of reproduction that does not mean the group is nonliving because others in the group can reproduce.

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    The 7 Characteristics of Life

    Listed below are the traits that are typical of living things:

    1. Organized (They have levels of biological organization)
    2. Acquire Materials and Energy
    3. Reproduce
    4. Respond to Stimuli
    5. Homeostatic
    6. Grow and Develop
    7. Adapt

    In order for you to understand how these characteristics work in nature, observe your own species. Ask yourself the following questions.

    1. Do you have levels of biological organization? Simply put this question asks if you are an organism that has organs that work as systems? Do you have tissues that are made up of cells that are formed based on the DNA of your parents? The answer to all of these questions is of course "yes".
    2. Do you acquire materials and energy? In simple terms, it can be seen that you and the rest of your species must have nourishment to survive so the answer to this question is also yes.
    3. Does your species reproduce? Of course we do. You were born of your own mother and so you are a product of reproduction.
    4. Do you and your species respond to stimuli? If something cold touches you do you jerk away from it? Something hot? Do you blink when something gets too close to your eye? All of these are responses to stimuli.
    5. Are you homeostatic? Yes you are. You can observe this because homeostasis is basic the regulation of a system. When it's cold outside you are not cold inside because homeostasis is working to regulate your body temperature.
    6. Do you and your species grow and develop? Obviously you do or you would still be a drooling diapered bundle and so would your parents.
    7. Do you and your species adapt? Yes we do. If you have ever seen a model of a caveman then you can easily see how humans have adapted to the environment. Consider the fact that cavemen are depicted as furry, while you have minimal body hair compared to them. Part of this is because humans use resources outside of their own body to keep warm, thus we no longer have the need for the excess body hair our ancestors once had.

    Congratulations...you are a living thing! But can you as a living thing memorize the characteristics of living things? Try out the saying below to help you remember the specific characteristics of living things.

    • Organizations acquire reproductive responses based on their homeostatic development of adaptations.

    Use what you have learned to observe and categorize the world around you. Try to ask yourself questions about particular objects that aren't living things so that you can see exactly how the characteristics of living things actually works in real life.


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