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Physiology, from the Ancient Greek words φύσις (physis), meaning 'nature or origin', and -λογία (-logia), meaning 'study of',[1] is a fundamental scientific discipline that explores the functional aspects of living systems. It delves into the mechanisms by which organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules execute chemical and physical processes vital to life. Owing to the broad nature of this field, it is further divided into various specialized branches, including human physiology, plant physiology, cellular physiology, bacterial physiology, and viral physiology.

Historical Overview

The roots of physiology trace back to the time of Hippocrates (circa 420 BC), often regarded as the 'father of medicine.'[4] Aristotle's critical thinking and his focus on the correlation between structure and function laid the foundation of physiology in Ancient Greece. Claudius Galenus, also known as Galen (c. 126–199 AD), pioneered experimental physiology through his use of experiments to investigate body functions.

The term "physiology" was coined by French physician Jean Fernel in 1525, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of this discipline.

In the 19th century, the field of physiology experienced rapid growth with the introduction of the Cell Theory by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann in 1838, radically proposing that organisms comprise units called cells. Claude Bernard (1813–1878) made additional discoveries, leading to his concept of milieu interieur (internal environment), later adopted and championed as "homeostasis" by American physiologist Walter Cannon.

The 20th century saw an expansion of interest in how organisms other than humans function, leading to the emergence of comparative physiology and ecophysiology. Notable contributors to these fields include Knut Schmidt-Nielsen and George Bartholomew. More recently, evolutionary physiology has emerged as a distinct sub-discipline.

Human Physiology

Human physiology is a specialized branch that aims to comprehend the mechanisms that sustain life and enable function in the human body. This field applies scientific methods to investigate the nature of mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of humans, their organs, and the cells comprising them. It primarily focuses on organ and system levels, with the endocrine and nervous systems playing pivotal roles in receiving and transmitting signals that integrate function in animals. Homeostasis, the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems, is a significant element of such interactions in both plants and animals.

Recognition in Physiology

The highest honor in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded since 1901 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.



Also see

Glossary of anatomy and physiology | Anatomy and Physiology terms


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  1. Hippocrates (1978). "On Ancient Medicine". In Jonathan Chadwick, N.G. Wilson (ed.). Hippocrates. Loeb Classical Library. 1. trans. W.H.S. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 168–169.

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