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Who is Marcello Malpighi?
Do you know who the first person was to study the invisible world within the human body? Do you know he lived back in the 1600s? Marcello Malpighi was an Italian biologist and a physician who lived between 1628 and 1694. He discovered the invisible world of the human body and plants by studying tissues under a microscope. Those discoveries of previously invisible tissues turned a new light on the human body. His microscopic findings formed a great foundation for what you study today during biology classes and in medical school; therefore, he is seen as the father of microscopic anatomy. What's remarkable is that Marcello started his education in grammatical studies, which he completed. Later, he switched to philosophy and medical studies at the University of Bologna. He graduated as both a doctor of medicine and philosophy in 1653.
Besides being a scientist that contributed a lot to the field of anatomy and medicine, Malpighi was a remarkable medical science teacher and held a chair in the universities of Bologna, Pisa and Messina. He was also a member of the Royal Society of London that published many of his works even after his death.
Discoveries and Contributions
Much of what we know about the human body was discovered by Malpighi. But his most famous discoveries where:
- the taste sensors on the human tongue, which explained how saliva is excreted and taste is perceived;
- the study of different skin layers, which explained the pigmentation mechanism;
- the structure of the lungs, which explained how air and blood are mixed in the lungs; and
- the central nervous system connection between the spinal cord and the brain.
But those are only some of his biggest contributions to medicine. He also studied kidneys, livers and many other body tissues under the microscope, and was able to form remarkable conclusions. That's why in modern anatomy you find many glands and tissues named after Malpighi: the Malpighian bodies of the spleen and the Malpighian corpuscles and pyramids in kidneys, for example. Malpighi also managed to publish a work about fingerprints and hand lines in 1685, which laid a firm foundation for the forensic studies that are used today by criminologists.
As a biologist, Malpighi devoted much work to the development of seeds and small animals, in what is now known as the science of embryology. Among others, he published works about the development stages of silkworm larvae and explained how a chick is developed from an egg. In his plant studies, he illustrated detailed development of beans, squash and melon seeds, and described the full cycle of the lemon trees' growth process. He was also the one who managed to explain the mechanism of honey production by studying nectar formation in plants.
Because Malpighi was a talented sketch artist, he was the first one to draw very detailed sketches of organs and plants. That distinguished his publications from works of other scientists and made his work very interesting and applicable in practice, as compared to other visual presentations of those times.
In 1691, Malpighi was invited by Pope Innocent XII to Rome to be a chief physician. There, he also taught at the Papal Medical School. Malpighi died in Rome of a stroke in 1694, but was honorably buried in Bologna, his home province.
Marcello Malpighi was an Italian biologist and a physician who held a doctorate in both medicine and philosophy. He studied the invisible tissues in human and plant bodies, which eventually led to the recognition of him as the father of microscopic anatomy. Malpighi made many discoveries that we still use in modern medicine. The most famous ones where: the discovery of the oxygen and blood circulation in lungs, the skin pigmentation mechanism, the sensory mechanism of the tongue, and the connection between the spinal cord and the brain.
In addition to the human body, Malpighi also studied animals and plants and laid a firm foundation for embryology studies. He was the one who managed to explain how a chick is developed in an egg and to visualize the development stages of several plant seeds. Most of his works were published by the Royal Society of London, of which he was a member. What made Malpighi's works stand out from other scientific publications was his drawing talent. He managed to visualize his discoveries in detailed sketches which where extraordinary for that time. Malpighi served as the pope's chief physician during the last years of his life, and died in Rome from a stroke in 1694.
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