Each animal species can be viewed as a collection of individuals, all sharing a common pool of genes. The genes determine all of the animal's characteristics, and are made of the complex molecule known as DNA. The genes are exchanged among the members of the species through a variety of mechanisms, all of which are related in some way to the process of reproduction. For this reason, the ability to reproduce is often considered to be one of the most important defining characteristics of life. But reproduction, like most basic biological functions, occurs primarily at the level of a single individual that may interact with another individual to exchange genetic information through the transfer of DNA. This individual parent animal reproduces to form another new individual offspring. The offspring, however, begins its individual life as a single cell rather than as a multicellular animal like its parent. If it is to reproduce, it must usually become multicellular as well, and must ultimately mature to be anatomically similar to its parent. This entire cycle of development is generally known as the life history of an individual animal. In other words, the life history of any individual animal comprises the processes of reproduction and development; in turn, each of these processes is broken down into other more specific processes, each designed to accomplish a particular function.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.