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We’ll start with a simple definition of biology: biology is the study of life. This includes examination of the processes that govern how life is maintained and reproduced, and observation of how living things interact with each other and with the environment. Although this sounds rather simple, it involves studying many different and diverse areas, from the molecular level to the global scale.
There are two distinct perspectives from which one can study biological processes: in vivo or in vitro. In vivo means research is done in the body itself. In vitro means literally “in glass,” as an experiment that is done in a test tube, or outside of the body. In vivo experiments, naturally, include all the factors that can influence a process; therefore, the reactions being studied represent a “real life” situation. However, all these factors and reactions can make for a very complex system that is not easily understood. In vitro studies, on the other hand, allow researchers to manipulate the system to study only one or two isolated factors. This helps to determine exactly what these factors do.
Although each approach has its merits and drawbacks, both perspectives are needed and work synergistically. For example, the study of AIDS has benefited from both in vivo and in vitro studies. The course of the illness, from infection with HIV to full blown AIDS, has been well characterized in humans through the use of in vivo studies. But the exact mechanism of how the virus invades a cell is known through in vitro studies. Drugs designed to fight the virus are first tested in vitro using HIV infected cells grown in the laboratory. Drugs that prove effective in vitro are then tested in vivo. 

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