Anatomy is the study of form, a. k. a., structure. Anatomy means to cut apart, or to separate by cutting open. The etymology of the term reflects the method, not the result. Intuitively, the ancient anatomists have coined a word with a meaning deeper than meets the eye. Their followers—realizing that the living matter can be cut apart indefinitely into smaller and smaller units that would be invisible to the human eye—which has a limited resolution of 0.2 mm—created instruments that would help us see those invisible structures. Microscopes’ increased resolution cuts open into the invisible allowing the human eye to see and the mind to understand previously invisible structures, such as the cell, subcellular organelles, bacteria, viruses, and even large protein molecules.

I taught human anatomy—from gross anatomy to electron microscopic anatomy—between 1974 and 1983, at the time when the fluid-mosaic model of the membrane was taking shape and the functions of the endoplasmic reticulum were being established. Between that time and 2004, when I resumed teaching anatomy for another three years, the ubiquity of the membrane structure has been universally accepted and understood. Also, the only non-membranous structure of critical importance to the living matter, the nuclear chromatin containing DNA, RNA, and protein, has been brought to light, that is, made visible to its tiniest relevant detail.

Although functions are what structures are made for, my fascination with form strongly overshadows my interest in function. Like the two sides of a coin, structure and function are inseparable, yet what living bodies possess information about is their composition, not their function. The latter is in latent state and emerges in response to environmental stimuli. Of course, in the sense that the variety of living forms results from the functional adaptation to the environment, function determines structure. Once the structure exists, it performs the function for which it is fit.

Another fascination of mine is the principle of economy. There are universal structures that perform universal functions: a) the ATP molecule is the universal storage of energy in any imaginable living unit; b) the four nuclear bases make out for the universal genetic code; c) cellular and intracellular membranes are a continuum allowing to compartmentalize the living matter into spaces in which the different functions required for life to go its full cycle are performed. And so on, and so forth …

I’m inclined to mull over the analogy—which may seem a bit far-fetched to some people—that structure and function in biology are like form and content in art and the belle letters. What makes a human creation an object of art is its form, which can exist and be liked without content (or narrative). Moreover, a work of art or a fictional story are extracted from the real world and framed. In the same way living objects are separated from their environment, that is, individualized.

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