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How is the functioning of body organs determined?

  1. Aug 23, 2016 #1
    I wonder how were historically functions of the body organs determined? I mean how they dermined working of circulatory system , Nervous system, Excretory system etc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2016 #2
    Sustain injury/trauma to an organ, observe its response and influence on the body, track the blood flow, the chemical reactions throughout the body, etc.

    Such understanding has been cumulatively improved over time. People in the past were probably willing to get their hands dirtier than today. New info is more precise. Studying other mammals also helps.

    In the past things were carried out much less scientifically. In many ancient cultures, "medicine" was deeply intertwined with local superstitions, religion, fiction. Traditional Chinese Medicine still inherits many 'myths' from the past, as do many other ancient "medicines" throughout the world. Those are not regarded as scientific and are losing room to scientific knowledge.
  4. Aug 24, 2016 #3

    Fervent Freyja

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    Historically, body function had been very difficult to determine, much of it had been bad guesswork and there were many superstitions surrounding the body. After we began studying anatomy more thoroughly, the body of knowledge grew enough to ignite many the observations and experiments that result in what we know today. Thanks to contribution by hundreds of thousands of people.

    Oftentimes, the functions in the body we now know of began as simple ideas. For example, Leonardo da Vinci had came close to the idea that blood circulated in the body in the 1500s through his dissection of cadavers; although, someone else made the official discovery a century later.


    Much of what appears to be common sense or intuitive about our body or nature actually isn't. Sometimes, we make a huge leap in understanding, but anatomy and physiology is primarily built upon by many people working together over the years. As it stands, there is still much left to discover about the functions in the body- plenty to keep people busy for centuries! I'm hoping to be able to participate in or at least observe a human dissection this semester (one of my prior Professors is doing some work in mapping lymphatic vessels)! :smile:
  5. Aug 25, 2016 #4
    May you achieve everything you desire. :) BTW Is it right that A very common way of getting information on the function of an organ, part of an organ (such as a region of the brain) or a protein is to look at the outcome (symptoms or phenotype) in cases where it is not functional?
  6. Aug 25, 2016 #5


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    Yes, that is one commonly used way to determine the function of a biological parts.
    Might not always work though since there can be a lot of redundancy in biological systems (such as duplicated genes, or many copies of a structure). Brain regions may have some overlap in their function. Some brain regions can acquire the function of neighboring brain regions if they are damaged. This makes the interpretation of some of these things non-obvious.

    Temporary inactivation (such as a temperature sensitive protein that only works right in certain temperature ranges or blocking blood flow by pressing down in a blood vessel near the skin), or removal and replacement of something (delete a gene (or several) and then replace it) can be used in a similar way.

    Taking things apart (dissection) and testing the components in vitro can also be revealing (such as stimulating a nerve-muscle preparation in a dish, perhaps with and without drugs that effect neurotransmission.
    Successfully engineering a gene to do something new can confirm an understanding of how it or its parts are working.
    These amount to tests of more specific hypotheses about how something works and are generally more powerful indicators.
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