Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek
The use of the microscope in the study of anatomy is a turning point in the field and resulted in the birth of what is known as "Microscopic Anatomy."
Use of the Microscope in Anatomical Study
Marcello Malpighi, a medical lecturer at the University of Bologna, is credited with pioneering the use of the microscope in biology.
In 1661 AD, Malpighi made use of the microscope to become the first scientist to observe the capillaries. It is this discovery that puts the finishing touches, so to speak, on Harvey's previous study of the circulation of blood from the arteries to the veins.
Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, having taught himself how to grind lenses of a much higher degree of accuracy and clarity than had been previously available, took the science of microscopic anatomy to a higher level.
In 1674, van Leeuwenhoek become the first scientist to provide an accurate description of red blood corpuscles. In 1677 he was able to depict spermatozoa in dog semen, and in 1683 he created drawings of bacteria found in saliva and dental plaque.
Published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London, his account of the life cycle of the common flea was the first scientific work to show that microscopic creatures could have a life cycle that was comparative to that of larger, macroscopic organisms.
Microscopic Anatomy in the 1800s
Robert Brown, in 1831, used a microscope to discover that plants also have a nucleus at the center of each of their cells. Following up on this research, in 1835, biologist Felix Dujardin identified what is now known as "protoplasm," that translucent viscous substance that is common within the cells of all life.
Based on the work of other microscopic anatomists, in 1839 Matthias Schledien and Theodor Swann came up with the first foundation of cell theory - that all living things have cells as their basic building blocks.
In the past one hundred and seventy years, the preponderance of new technology and a much deeper understanding of subjects such as molecular and evolutionary biology has led to major advancement in the field of anatomy.
New scientific disciplines such as endocrinology have allowed modern scientists to explain the purpose of anatomical features that previous biologists could not. Improved medical technology such as x-rays, MRI machines and CAT and PET scanners have enabled scientists to study human anatomy of living subjects. And finally, the development of even stronger forms of microscopy has led to the ability to study even the structure of DNA.