Gwen Odom July 24, 2020 Anatomy
The need for thinner, more transparent tissue specimens for study under the light microscope stimulated the development of improved methods of dissection, notably machines called microtomes that can slice specimens into extremely thin sections. In order to better distinguish the detail in these sections, synthetic dyes were used to stain tissues with different colours. Thin sections and staining had become standard tools for microscopic anatomists by the late 19th century. The field of cytology, which is the study of cells, and that of histology, which is the study of tissue organization from the cellular level up, both arose in the 19th century with the data and techniques of microscopic anatomy as their basis.
Scientific names for the parts and structures of the human body are usually in Latin; for example, the name musculus biceps brachii denotes the biceps muscle of the upper arm. Some such names were bequeathed to Europe by ancient Greek and Roman writers, and many more were coined by European anatomists from the 16th century on. Expanding medical knowledge meant the discovery of many bodily structures and tissues, but there was no uniformity of nomenclature, and thousands of new names were added as medical writers followed their own fancies, usually expressing them in a Latin form.
The new application of magnifying glasses and compound microscopes to biological studies in the second half of the 17th century was the most important factor in the subsequent development of anatomical research. Primitive early microscopes enabled Marcello Malpighi to discover the system of tiny capillaries connecting the arterial and venous networks, Robert Hooke to first observe the small compartments in plants that he called “cells,” and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek to observe muscle fibres and spermatozoa. Thenceforth attention gradually shifted from the identification and understanding of bodily structures visible to the naked eye to those of microscopic size.
Comparative anatomy, the other major subdivision of the field, compares similar body structures in different species of animals in order to understand the adaptive changes they have undergone in the course of evolution.
Some of these organs work together and form systems that are specialised to perform a specific function or a set of functions. Collectively, these are known as organ systems.
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.
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