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Here at the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System headquarters, we tend to focus on the obvious structures and visible architecture of the human body.

Bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments.

But a recent podcast interview with Meadow Campbell (about her online world called AnatomyLove) sent us down a rabbit hole mulling the importance of histology.

That is, the microscopic counterpart to gross anatomy.

Some argue there are three branches of microscopic anatomy—organology (organs), histology (tissues), and cytology (cells). But modern usage has put all three under the umbrella of histology.

And giving full credit again to AnatomyLove and this blog post about histology, there are four basic tissues in the human body.

Epithelial, connective, muscle, and nervous tissue.

Obviously, everything works together as one functioning human.

Poking around about histology online, we bumped into Marcello Malpighi. He lived near Bologna, Italy, in the early 17th Century. A quick glance at the life of Malpighi, who is considered to be the founder of microscopic anatomy, had us marveling at the research he was conducting more than 400 years ago using very early and relatively crude microscopes.

Marcello Malpighi

Malpighi earned doctorates in both medicine and philosophy from the University of Bologna in 1653. Three years later, teaching at the University of Pisa, he found himself questioning the prevailing medical teachings and he later returned to the University of Bologna where he identified and described the pulmonary and capillary network connecting small arteries with small veins.

Malpighi’s views evoked increasing controversy and dissent. But Malpighi, in fact, was way ahead of his time.

According to an article in the American Journal of Physiology, Malpighi’s scientific contributions are voluminous.

Marcello Malpighi:

  • Was the first to describe the anatomical basis of insect respiration (from studying the silkworm).

  • Is considered the father of embryology.

  • Discovered that air entering the lung is conducted down a series of airways into the tiny alveoli, and also that the surface of the alveoli is covered with a rich network of blood.

  • Was the first to describe the spiracles of insects, and the system of vessels associated with them.

  • Is commonly regarded as the founder of the microscopic study of plant anatomy (along with his English contemporary Nehemiah Grew).

  • Described the papillae of the tongue and postulated their role in taste.

  • Described a layer of cells in skin that now bears his name.

  • Described the histology of the kidney, spleen, and liver. He saw the glomeruli in the kidney and for a time these were named after him. In the liver he saw small lobules that he concluded represented the fundamental unit of that organ.

Unfortunately, Malpighi’s research drew severe criticism. And attacks.

Malpighi replied with science:

“Nature … in order to carry out the marvelous operations [that occur] in animals and plants has been pleased to construct their organized bodies with a very large number of machines, which are of necessity made up of extremely minute parts so shaped and situated as to form a marvelous organ, the structure and composition of which are usually invisible to the naked eye without the aid of a microscope. … Just as Nature deserves praise and admiration for making machines so small, so too the physician who observes them to the best of his ability is worthy of praise, not blame, for he must also correct and repair these machines as well as he can every time they get out of order.”

Yes, a “marvelous organ.”

Bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments … and tissues, too.






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