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Marcello Malpighi

Marcello Malpighi (March 10, 1628 - November 29, 1694) was an Italian doctor, who gave his name to several physiological features. He was pioneer in using a microscope and he has also been described as a founder of comparative physiology and microscopic anatomy.

Malpighi was born in Crevalcore (Cavalcuore ), Italy, raised on the farm his parents owned and entered the University of Bologna at the age of 17. Malpighi began to study Aristotelian philosophy. When his father, mother and paternal grandmother died, he had to abandon his studies for more than two years to settle family affairs. He returned to university after two years, and became a doctor of medicine in 1653. He married Francesca Massari, younger sister of his anatomy professor, the next year. She unfortunately died a year later.


Academic career

In 1656 Malpighi received a chair of medical practice in the university, three years after he had applied for it, and later the same year University of Pisa created a chair of theoretical medicine for him. He stayed in Pisa for three years and then returned to Bologna. In 1661 he was called to University of Messina where he stayed for four years.

Most of Malpighi's research results were published as articles in the journal of the Royal Society of England . His first article appeared there in 1661 and was about anatomy of a lung of a frog during which he had discovered capillaries. In 1667 Henry Oldenburg invited Malpighi to correspond with the Royal Society regularly and he became a fellow the next year, the first such recognition given to an Italian.


Malpighi used the microscope for studies on skin, kidney, and for the first interspecies comparison of the liver. He greatly extended the science of embryology. The use of microscopes enabled him to describe the development of the chick in its egg, and discovered that insects (particularly, the silk worm) do not use lungs to breathe, but small holes in their skin called tracheae. Later he falsely concluded that plants had similar tubules. He was the first to see capillaries and discovered the link between arteries and veins that had eluded William Harvey.

Malpighi is regarded as the founder of microscopic anatomy and the first histologist. Many microscopic anatomical structures are named after him, including a skin layer (Malpighi layer ) and two different Malpighian corpuscles in the kidneys and the spleen, as well as the Malpighian tubules in the excretory system of insects.

He also studied chick embryo development with detailed drawings and discovered taste buds of human tongue. Some of his studies he made by vivisection. He also tried to study the anatomy of a brain but his conclusion that brain is a gland have been proved incorrect. He was also the first to discover and study human fingerprints.

Despite of his anatomical studies, he was also one of the rare contemporary scholars who studied plants; he published his findings in a book Anatomia Plantarum in 1671. It was the most exhaustive study of botany at the time. Royal Society published it the next year.

Years in Rome

1691 Pope Innocent XII invited him to Rome as Papal physician, He taught medicine in the Papal Medical School and wrote a long treatise about his studies he donated to Royal Society of London.

Marcello Malpighi died of apoplexy in Rome on September 29 1694. Royal Society published his studies in 1696.

Some of Malpighi's important works

  • De viscerum structura exercitatio (Bologna, 1666)


  • Howard Adelmann, Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology, 5 vol., 1966.

External links


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