Monday, December 28, 2015

1661: Malpighi completes Harvey's work

Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694)
So William Harvey proved that blood circulates through the body and published his proof in 1628.  Yet one thing that limited his research, almost causing it to come to a "standstill," was his inability to see where the arterial system connects with the venous system.

However, this problem would be resolved, thanks to the microscope, and thanks to the investigations of Marcello Malpighi.  He was the first to observe and report capillary anastomosis, which are the microscopic connections joining arteries and veins. (11, page 245)

Malpighi was professor at the University of Bologna.

By using a microscope in 1661, he observed the exchange of air from the lungs to capillaries in a frog.  He therefore was the first person to see the alveoli and capillary system. However, said Garrison, he did not apply much significance to this discovery (7, page 474)  (14, page 142)(11, page 252)

Garrison said that this was the missing link that Harvey was looking for regarding the complete circulation of blood through the body. However, considering Malppighi applied little significance to it, the discovery was not well regarded.  It would be left to a later investigator to complete Harvey's work. (11, page 247, 252)

A few years later, in 1665 he discovered blood corpuscles, (14, page 142) or what we refer to as red blood cells.  These cells are the main constituent in blood, and their main responsibility to is carry oxygen through the blood stream to the various organs of the body.

Malpighi's discover was verified by later observations:
  • Dublin professor William Molyneux observed the capillary system in lizards in 1683.  
  • William Cowper "saw the passage of the arterial into the venous current in the mesentery (membrane that attaches the intestines to the abdominal wall) of a cat in 1687 
  • Anton von Leeuwenhoeck (1632-1723) observed capillaries in the larvae and feet of frogs in 1688 (14, page 142)
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  13. Garrison, op cit, 266; (Samuel) Pepy's Diary, Mynors Bright's ed., London, 1900, v, 191
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  17. Affray, Charles, Denis Noble, "Origins of Systems Biology in William Harvey's masterpiece on the Movement of the Heart and the Blood in Animals," April 17, 2009, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 10(2), pages 1658-1669, found online at,, accessed 7/8/14
  18. "Antony van Leeuwenhoik (1632-1723),",
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