We explain what anatomy is, its interests and the branches into which it is divided. Also, what are its characteristics and why is it important.

Anatomy is one of the basic or “preclinical” sciences of medicine.

What is anatomy?

Anatomy is called the branch of biology that studies the body structure of living things, that is, the shape, location, interrelationship, and appearance of the parts and organs that make up their bodies. Its name comes from the Greek words Ana (“up”) and temnein (“cut”), since it began with the observation of the interior of the body of living beings.

The anatomy is considered one of the basic or “preclinical” sciences of medicine. It arose as a concern in search of knowledge long before there was the idea that human beings can intervene in the functioning of our bodies and thus cure ourselves of any ailment.

The anatomy It is very close to physiology, science that deals with understanding the function of the body parts of living beings. Scientists specializing in anatomy are known as anatomists, although the term “anatomical” is also accepted.

See also: Genetics

first steps in anatomy

Galen of Pergamum - anatomy
The first student of anatomy was Galen of Pergamum.

The founder of the medical sciences was the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC).

Nevertheless, the first student of anatomy was Galen of Pergamum (129 – c. 216) or Claudius Galenus.

He was a Greek philosopher, physician, and surgeon, who lived in the Roman Empire.

It is considered the father of anatomy and physiologyamong other branches of medicine.

He wrote more than 125 volumes about it, the result of his innumerable research on the human body and that of different animals, especially goats, pigs and monkeys. He came to understand the function of the kidneys and bladder, of muscular control by the spinal column. In addition, he identified seven pairs of cranial nerves.

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history of anatomy

Andreas Vesalius - anatomy
Andreas Vesalius is considered the father of modern anatomy.

The interest in the interior of the human and animal bodys goes back in history to the most primitive times, as demonstrated by the numerous cave paintings in which the interior of animals such as mammoths and horses is represented. However, its formal study can be traced back to two traditions:

  • the western. Born in Greco-Roman Antiquity, especially from the studies of Hippocrates and Galen.
  • The eastern. Which has as its starting point the studies contained in the charaka samhita (2nd century), an extensive work on internal medicine written by Charaka-Samjita, father of Ayurvedic medicine and discoverer of the circulatory system in the 3rd century.

The emergence of anatomy as a science occurred around the end of the European Middle Ages.. With the end of the religious dominance of Christianity, interest in reason and classical studies spread in the West. Thus, in the face of a physical ailment, prayers and faith in God were replaced by medical intervention.

Modern medicine is based on studies of Andreas Vesalius, father of modern anatomy. This Flemish anatomist questioned many of Galen’s assertions, still valid in the 16th century.

Vesalius recorded his discoveries about the human body in his De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (“Of the structure of the human body in seven books”), accompanied by drawings and published in 1543. This work began the anatomical study as and how we understand it today.

What does anatomy study?

The anatomy is dedicated to the study of the organic body, that is, of the living body, and especially of the human body. Its purpose is the description of the various organs that make up the body of living beings in terms of location, appearance, relationship and structure.

These investigations often require dissection of the body, which can be real or simulated, as in the case of CT scans and other contemporary methods. The descriptions of the body are made taking it as an organized whole, but also by parts.

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branches of anatomy

Functional anatomy studies the organs according to their functioning.

Anatomy has a large number of branches or subdivisions, centered on certain types of living bodies, or on their specific approach to them. For example:

  • Descriptive anatomy. Also known as systematics, it understands the body as a set of interrelated systems, and attempts to describe which organs make up each system.
  • surgical anatomy. Study the tissues and structures of the body, facing the possibility of surgical or medical intervention.
  • Comparative anatomy. From the comparison of the human body and that of animals, he draws conclusions regarding their similarities, differences and possible evolutionary history.
  • Developmental anatomy. Part of the so-called embryology, focuses on the gradual conformation of the parts of the living body during the prenatal stages.
  • Functional anatomy. Also called physiology, it studies the organs according to their functioning.

anatomy and physiology

anatomy and physiology are separate disciplines, but very closely linked approach. The former describes the location, shape, and appearance of the body’s organs, while physiology focuses on their respective functions.

However, the shape, location and appearance of the organs respond to their specific functions. Therefore, we can consider them as Two sides of the same coin.

Human anatomy

Human anatomy allows us to visualize the unique characteristics of our biology.

Human anatomy is an approach to anatomy that specifically looks at the human body. It is relatively similar to animal anatomyin the sense that the body of all living beings can be organized into hierarchical and interrelated systems, such as the immune, cardiovascular, digestive, etc.

On the other hand, human anatomy allows us to visualize the unique characteristics of our biology, such as those concerning the brain, the most powerful of all those that exist in nature. Human anatomy is also central to any type of medicine, since to treat the human body it is necessary to know it first.

animal anatomy

Animal anatomy is also a specific field of general anatomy, which is interested in the anatomy of animals, different from the human. In that sense, being the animals much more diverse and varied than human beings, it is a much broader and more complex approach.

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You can specialize in animals of any kind: from insects, reptiles and birds, to mammals with which humans share the greatest number of characteristics. Logically, it is a perspective of interest for zoology and veterinary medicine.

plant anatomy

plant anatomy
Plant anatomy tries to understand the interior of plants.

Just as there is an anatomical approach directed at animals, it is possible to find an equivalent in botany, which is interested in the description of the different types of plants: trees, shrubs, etc.. In principle, this perspective is like the others: it tries to understand the inside of the body of plants, to know how they work.

Why is anatomy important?

The search for a cure for diseases is based on anatomy.

The anatomy is one of the pillars of medicine, biology and other sciences derived from these. This is because knowledge of one’s own body and the body of other living beings is the basis of many forms of their manipulation or our interaction with them.

We owe them in the first place understanding the normal functioning of the human body and other living beings. But in addition, the search for the cure of diseases and the solution of specific ailments is based on it.

auxiliary sciences

The study of the anatomy of the body complements and at the same time feeds the specific fields of knowledge of other sciences with a more specific focus. Among them are osteology (study of bones), arthrology (study of the joints) and myology (study of muscles).

It is also essential for sciences focused on the functioning of a specific organ. For example It is used in cardiology (heart)gastroenterology (digestive system), pulmonology (lungs), etc.


  • “Anatomy” on Wikipedia.
  • “Anatomy” on MedLine Plus.
  • “What does the word anatomy mean?” at Biodic.net.
  • “Human Anatomy and Physiology” at Khan Academy.
  • “Anatomy” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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