1902 Encyclopedia > Biology > Physiological Units. Organs. Muscles. Nerves.

(Part 12)

Physiological Units. Organs. Muscles. Nerves.

But the first process in that development is the division of the germ into a number of morphological units is also a physiological unit, and the multicellular mass is strictly a compound organism, made up of a multitude of physiologically independent cells. The physiological activities manifested by the complex whole represent the sum, or rather the resultant, of the separate and independent physiological activities resident in each of the simpler constituents of that whole.

The morphological changes which the cells undergo in the course of the further development of the organism do not affect their individuality; and, notwithstanding the modification and confluence of its constituent cells, the adult organism, however complex, is still an aggregate of morphological units. Nor is it less an aggregate of physiological units, each of which retains its fundamental independence, though that independence becomes restricted in various ways.

Each cell, or that element of a tissue which proceeds from the modification of a cell, must needs retain its sustentative functions so long as it grow or maintains a condition of equilibrium; but the most completely metamorphosed cells show no trace of the generative function, and many exhibit no correlative functions. On the other hand, those cells of the adult organism which are the unmetamorphosed derivatives of the germ, exhibit all the primary functions, not only nourishing themselves and growing, but multiplying, and frequently showing more or less marked movements.

Organs are parts of the body which perform particular functions. In strictness, perhaps, it is not quite right to speak or organs of sustentation or generation, each of these functions being necessarily performed by the morphological unit which is nourished or reproduced. What are called the organs of these functions are the apparatuses by which certain operations, subsidiary to sustenation and generation, are carried on.

Thus, in the case of the sustentative functions, all those organs may be said to contribute to this functions which are concerned in bringing nutriment within reach of the ultimate cells, or, in removing waste matter from them; while in the case of the generative function, all those organs contribute to the function which produce the cells from which germs are given off; or help in the evacuation, or fertilization, or development of these germs.

On the other hand, the correlative functions, so long as they are exerted by a simple undifferentiated morphological unit or cell, are of the simplest character, consisting of those modifications of position which can be effected by mere changes in the form or arrangement of the parts of the protoplasm, or of those prolongations of the protoplasm which are called pseudopodia or cilia. But, in the higher animals and plants, the movements of the organism and of its parts are brought about by the change of the form of certain tissues, the property of which is to shorten in one direction when exposed to certain stimuli. Such tissues are termed contractile; and, in their most fully developed condition, muscular. The stimulus by which this contraction is naturally brought about is a molecular change, either in the substance of the contractile tissue itself, or in some other parts of the body; in which latter case, the motion which is set up in that part of the body must be propagated to the contractile tissue through the intermediate substance of the body. In plants there seems no question that parts which retain a hardly modified cellular structure may serve as channels for the transmission of this molecular motion; whether the same is true of animals is not certain. But, in all the more complex animals, a peculiar fibrous tissue -- nerve -- serves as the agent by which contractile tissue is affected by changes occurring elsewhere, and by which contractions thus initiated are co-ordinated and brought into harmonious combination. While the sustentative functions in the higher forms of life are still, as in the lower, fundamentally dependent upon the powers inherent in all the physiological units which make up the body, the correlative functions are, in the former, deputed to two sets of specially modified units, which constitute the muscular and the nervous tissues.

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