Marcello Malpighi: Biography, Discoveries & Contributions

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

In this lesson, you will learn about the father of microscopic anatomy, the remarkable Marcello Malpighi, who made many discoveries that form the foundation of today's microscopy. Learn about this incredible scientist in this lesson.

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.

Marcello Malpighi was a famous Italian physician and biologist.
Marcello Malpighi

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.

The Royal Society of London published most of Malpighi
Royal Society London, Marcello Malpighi

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.

The remarkably detailed sketches that accompanied his research were typical for Malpighi.
Marcello Malpighi sketch

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