Angela Garza June 29, 2020 Anatomy
Human anatomy is the scientific study of the body’s structures. Some of these structures are very small and can only be observed and analyzed with the assistance of a microscope. Other larger structures can readily be seen, manipulated, measured, and weighed. The word “anatomy” comes from a Greek root that means “to cut apart.” Human anatomy was first studied by observing the exterior of the body and observing the wounds of soldiers and other injuries. Later, physicians were allowed to dissect bodies of the dead to augment their knowledge.
Humans have evolved separately from other animals, but since we share a distant common ancestor, we mostly have a body plan that is similar to other organisms, with just the muscles and bones in different proportions.
Owing to church prohibitions against dissection, European medicine in the Middle Ages relied upon Galen’s mixture of fact and fancy rather than on direct observation for its anatomical knowledge, though some dissections were authorized for teaching purposes. In the early 16th century, the artist Leonardo da Vinci undertook his own dissections, and his beautiful and accurate anatomical drawings cleared the way for Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius to “restore” the science of anatomy with his monumental De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (1543; “The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body”), which was the first comprehensive and illustrated textbook of anatomy. As a professor at the University of Padua, Vesalius encouraged younger scientists to accept traditional anatomy only after verifying it themselves, and this more critical and questioning attitude broke Galen’s authority and placed anatomy on a firm foundation of observed fact and demonstration.
The use of the microscope in discovering minute, previously unknown features was pursued on a more systematic basis in the 18th century, but progress tended to be slow until technical improvements in the compound microscope itself, beginning in the 1830s with the gradual development of achromatic lenses, greatly increased that instrument’s resolving power. These technical advances enabled Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann to recognize in 1838–39 that the cell is the fundamental unit of organization in all living things.
This is the result of humans having ancestors that began walking on their hind limbs rather than using all four limbs. Most of our anatomical insight was gained through the dissection of corpses (cadavers), and for a long time, it was the only way we could gain anatomical knowledge about the human body. It was a rather grotesque affair, but it made up the bulk of medical literature for centuries. These days, technological innovation has made it possible to explore human anatomy at a microscopic level.
Even to this day, scientists are newly discovering organs that were previously overlooked or have been mistakenly identified as other existing tissues. In 2018, scientists had discovered a new, body-wide organ called the Interstitium that exists right under the skin.
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