Since ancient times, humanity has tried to understand the guts inside us. The ancient Egyptians manipulated human organs by harvesting them for embalming. Medical manuscripts found in an ancient Chinese tomb are possibly the earliest known anatomical writing on the human body. Thousands of years later, do we know how many organs are in the human body?
Organs are collections of tissues that work together for a common purpose, said Lisa MJ Lee, associate professor at the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Medical School. “Every organ has a function in human performance or survival,” she told Live Science.
But not all organs are necessary for survival. Only five organs – brain, heart, liver, at least one kidney and at least one lungs – are absolutely necessary for life. The loss of the full function of any of these vital organs leads to death. Remarkably, the human body can survive without many other organs or by replacing an organ that is not working with a medical device.
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Organ count in the human body depends on who you ask and how you count, Lee said. Although no one knows where the number came from, the total number is 78 organs, she said. This list includes the vital organs: tongue, stomach, thyroid, urethra, pancreas, as well as many other single or paired organs. Bones and teeth are only counted once.
There are differences among anatomists about what counts as an organ. A histologist like Lee who examines tissue at the microscopic level may have a longer organ list than a gross anatomist examining what is visible to the naked eye. For example, scientists made headlines in 2017 to label the mesentery that attaches the intestine to the abdominal wall as an organ. Although scientists have come up with new evidence to refer to it as an organ, how many histologists and anatomists have agreed has not been a matter of dispute, Lee explained. But no group is responsible for taking an official body count or deciding what qualifies as an organ.
When multiple types of tissue come together and work together, the unit is an organ, she said. Lee could refer to a nail or structures that support the nail as an organ, counting each tooth as a single organ. “I would look at each bone as an organ, and the 206 bones together are considered an organ system. Since bones are already listed once on the 78 list, simply add 205 for a total of 284 organs to get a total organ count using that definition.
If each tooth is counted individually, 315 organs are listed. Many other organs are listed only once, although there are many throughout the body. For example, ligaments and tendons could dramatically increase the total number of organs when counted individually. This game is endless. The 78 list only counts the nerves once, but there are billions of them.
Out of stock? Lee often tells his medical and graduate students that they are okay with this type of ambiguity. Regardless of how you count them, you have to take care of the organs that you have, she added. “More and more, I am discovering the importance of putting the right things into your body to nourish your cells, tissues and organs,” said Lee. After all, the corps only has a limited number of performers in its organ concert.
Originally posted on Live Science.
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