At Harvard, biology is an endangered species. Next fall's wide-eyed freshmen will have to head down the street to Massachusetts Institute of Technology if they want to concentrate (Harvard-speak for major) in the subject, because it will no longer be offered in Harvard Square.

This change was puzzling to my editor, who concentrated in biology at Harvard, and to me, a 2005 graduate with a degree in biochemistry. So I consulted Robert Lue, my former advisor and cochair of the Life Sciences Education Committee. "One of the problems with biology was it was too broad, too amorphous," says Lue, a senior lecturer on molecular and cellular biology. "I mean, what is biology?"

Harvard professor Douglas Melton, perhaps best known for his advocacy of embryonic stem cell research, assembled the committee two summers ago in an attempt to answer that question. Over the course of almost weekly meetings lasting two to...

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