Zoonomia, Vol. I Or, the Laws of Organic Life by Erasmus Darwin is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Section XXXVIII: Of the Oxygenation of the Blood in the Lungs, and in the Placenta SECTION XXXVIII. OF THE OXYGENATION OF THE BLOOD IN THE LUNGS, AND IN THE PLACENTA . From the recent discoveries of many ingenious philosophers it appears, that during respiration the blood imbibes the vital part of the air, called oxygene, through the membranes of the lungs; and that hence respiration may be aptly compared to a slow combustion. As in combustion the oxygene of the atmosphere unites with some phlogistic or inflammable body, and forms an acid (as in the production of vitriolic acid from sulphur, or carbonic acid from charcoal,) giving out at the same time a quantity of the matter of heat; so in respiration the oxygene of the air unites with the phlogistic part of the blood, and probably produces phosphoric or animal acid, changing the colour of the blood from a dark to a bright red; and probably some of the matter of heat is at the same time given out according to the theory of Dr. Crawford. But as the evolution of heat attends almost all chemical combinations, it is probable, that it also attends the secretions of the various fluids from the blood; and that the constant combinations or productions of new fluids by means of the glands constitute the more general source of animal heat; this seems evinced by the universal evolution of the matter of heat in the blush of shame or of anger; in which at the same time an increased secretion of the perspirable matter occurs; and the partial evolution of it from topical inflammations, as in gout or rheumatism, in which there is a secretion of new blood-vessels. I Some medical philosophers have ascribed the heat of animal bodies to the friction of the particles of the blood against the sides of the vessels. But no perceptible heat has ever been produced by the agitation of water, or oil, or quicksilver, or other fluids; except those fluids have undergone at the same time some chemical change, as in agitating milk or wine, till they become sour. Besides the supposed production of phosphoric acid, and change of colour of the blood, and the production of carbonic acid, there would appear to be something of a more subtile nature perpetually acquired from the atmosphere; which is too fine to be long contained in animal vessels, and therefore requires perpetual renovation; and without which life cannot continue longer than a minute or two; this ethereal fluid is probably secreted from the blood by the brain, and perpetually dissipated in the actions of the muscles and organs of sense. That the blood acquires something from the air, which is immediately necessary to life, appears from an experiment of Dr. Hare (Philos. Transact. abridged, Vol. III. p. 239.) who found, "that birds, mice, &c. would live as long again in a vessel, where he had crowded in double the quantity of air by a condensing engine, than they did when confined in air of the common density." Whereas if some kind of deleterious vapour only was exhaled from the blood in respiration; the air, when condensed into half its compass, could not be supposed to receive so much of it. . Sir Edward Hulse, a physician of reputation at the beginning of the present century, was of opinion, that the placenta was a respiratory organ, like the gills of fish; and not an organ to supply nutriment to the fœtus; as mentioned in Derham's Physico-theology. Many other physicians seem to have espoused the same opinion, as noticed by Haller. Elem. Physiologiæ, T. 1. Dr. Gipson published a defence of this theory in the Medical Essays of Edinburgh, Vol. I. and II. which doctrine is there controverted at large by the late Alexander Monro; and since that time the general opinion has been, that the placenta is an organ of nutrition only, owing perhaps rather to the authority of so great a name, than to the validity of the arguments adduced in its support. The subject has lately been resumed by Dr. James Jeffray, and by Dr. Forester French, in their inaugural dissertations at Edinburgh and at Cambridge; who have defended the contrary opinion in an able and ingenious manner; and from whose Theses I have extracted many of the following remarks. II First, by the late discoveries of Dr. Priestley, M. Lavoisier, and other philosophers, it appears, that the basis of atmospherical air, called oxygene, is received by the blood through the membranes of the lungs; and that by this addition the colour of the blood is changed from a dark to a light red. Secondly, that water possesses oxygene also as a part of its composition, and contains air likewise in its pores; whence the blood of fish receives oxygene from the water, or from the air it contains, by means of their gills, in the same manner as the blood is oxygenated in the lungs of air-breathing animals; it changes its colour at the same time from a dark to a light red in the vessels of their gills, which constitute a pulmonary organ adapted to the medium in which they live. Thirdly, that the placenta consists of arteries carrying the blood to its extremities, and a vein bringing it back, resembling exactly in structure the lungs and gills above mentioned; and that the blood changes its colour from a dark to a light red in passing through these vessels. This analogy between the lungs and gills of animals, and the placenta of the fetus, extends through a great variety of other circumstances; thus air-breathing creatures and fish can live but a few minutes without air or water; or when they are confined in such air or water, as has been spoiled by their own respiration; the same happens to the fetus, which, as soon as the placenta is separated from the uterus, must either expand its lungs, and receive air, or die. Hence from the structure, as well as the use of the placenta, it appears to be a respiratory organ, like the gills of fish, by which the blood in the fetus becomes oxygenated. From the terminations of the placental vessels not being observed to bleed after being torn from the uterus, while those of the uterus effuse a great quantity of florid arterial blood, the terminations of the placental vessels would seem to be inserted into the arterial ones of the mother; and to receive oxygenation from the passing currents of her blood through their coats or membranes; which oxygenation is proved by the change of the colour of the blood from dark to light red in its passage from the placental arteries to the placental vein. The curious structure of the cavities or lacunæ of the placenta, demonstrated by Mr. J. Hunter, explain this circumstance. That ingenious philosopher has shewn, that there are numerous cavities of lacunæ formed on that side of the placenta, which is in contact with the uterus; those cavities or cells are filled with blood from the maternal arteries, which open into them; which blood is again taken up by the maternal veins, and is thus perpetually changed. While the terminations of the placental arteries and veins are spread in fine reticulation on the sides of these cells. And thus, as the growing fetus requires greater oxygenation, an apparatus is produced resembling exactly the air-cells of the lungs. In cows, and other ruminating animals, the internal surface of the uterus is unequal like hollow cups, which have been called cotyledons; and into these cavities the prominencies of the numerous placentas, with which the fetus of those animals is furnished, are inserted, and strictly adhere; though they may be extracted without effusion of blood. These inequalities of the uterus, and the numerous placentas in consequence, seem to be designed for the purpose of expanding a greater surface for the terminations of the placental vessels for the purpose of receiving oxygenation from the uterine ones; as the progeny of this class of animals are more completely formed before their nativity, than that of the carnivorous classes, and must thence in the latter weeks of pregnancy require greater oxygenation. Thus calves and lambs can walk about in a few minutes after their birth; while puppies and kittens remain many days without opening their eyes. And though on the separation of the cotyledons of ruminating animals no blood is effused, yet this is owing clearly to the greater power of contraction of their uterine lacunæ or alveoli. See Medical Essays, Vol. V. page 144. And from the same cause they are not liable to a sanguiferous menstruation. The necessity of the oxygenation of the blood in the fetus is farther illustrated by the analogy of the chick in the egg; which appears to have its blood oxygenated at the extremities of the vessels surrounding the yolk; which are spread on the air-bag at the broad end of the egg, and may absorb oxygene through that moist membrane from the air confined behind it; and which is shewn by experiments in the exhausted receiver to be changeable though the shell. This analogy may even be extended to the growing seeds of vegetables; which were shewn by Mr. Scheele to require a renovation of the air over the water, in which they were confined. Many vegetable seeds are surrounded with air in their pods or receptacles, as peas, the fruit of staphylea, and lichnis vesicaria; but it is probable, that those seeds, after they are shed, as well as the spawn of fish, by the situation of the former on or near the moist and aerated surface of the earth, and of the latter in the ever-changing and ventilated water, may not be in need of an apparatus for the oxygenation of their first blood, before the leaves of one, and the gills of the other, are produced for this purpose. . . There are many arguments, besides the strict analogy between the liquor amnii and the albumen ovi, which shew the former to be a nutritive fluid; and that the fetus in the latter months of pregnancy takes it into its stomach; and that in consequence the placenta is produced for some other important purpose. III 1 First, that the liquor amnii is not an excrementitious fluid is evinced, because it is found in greater quantity, when the fetus is young, decreasing after a certain period till birth. Haller asserts, "that in some animals but a small quantity of this fluid remains at the birth. In the eggs of hens it is consumed on the eighteenth day, so that at the exclusion of the chick scarcely any remains. In rabbits before birth there is none." Elem. Physiol. Had this been an excrementitious fluid, the contrary would probably have occurred. Secondly, the skin of the fetus is covered with a whitish crust or pellicle, which would seem to preclude any idea of the liquor amnii being produced by any exsudation of perspirable matter. And it cannot consist of urine, because in brute animals the urachus passes from the bladder to the alantois for the express purpose of carrying off that fluid; which however in the human fetus seems to be retained in the distended bladder, as the feces are accumulated in the bowels of all animals. . The nutritious quality of the liquid, which surrounds the fetus, appears from the following considerations. 1. It is coagulable by heat, by nitrous acid, and by spirit of wine, like milk, serum of blood, and other fluids, which daily experience evinces to be nutritious. 2. It has a saltish taste according to the accurate Baron Haller, not unlike the whey of milk, which it even resembles in smell. 3. The white of the egg which constitutes the food of the chick, is shewn to be nutritious by our daily experience; besides the experiment of its nutritious effects mentioned by Dr. Fordyce in his late Treatise on Digestion, p. 178; who adds, that it much resembles the essential parts of the serum of blood. 2 . A fluid similar to the fluid, with which the fetus is surrounded, except what little change may be produced by a beginning digestion, is found in the stomach of the fetus; and the white of the egg is found, in the same manner in the stomach of the chick. 3 Numerous hairs, similar to those of its skin, are perpetually found among the contents of the stomach in new-born calves; which must therefore have licked themselves before their nativity. Blasii Anatom. See Sect. . on Instinct. XVI. 2 The chick in the egg is seen gently to move in its surrounding fluid, and to open and shut its mouth alternately. The same has been observed in puppies. Haller's El. Phys. I. 8. p. 201. A column of ice has been seen to reach down the œsophagus from the mouth to the stomach in a frozen fetus; and this ice was the liquor amnii frozen. The meconium, or first fæces, in the bowels of new-born infants evince, that something has been digested; and what could this be but the liquor amnii together with the recrements of the gastric juice and gall, which were necessary for its digestion? There have been recorded some monstrous births of animals without heads, and consequently without mouths, which seem to have been delivered on doubtful authority, or from inaccurate observation. There are two of such monstrous productions however better attested; one of a human fetus, mentioned by Gipson in the Scots Medical Essays; which having the gula impervious was furnished with an aperture into the wind-pipe, which communicated below into the gullet; by means of which the liquor amnii might be taken into the stomach before nativity without danger of suffocation, while the fetus had no occasion to breathe. The other monstrous fetus is described by Vander Wiel, who asserts, that he saw a monstrous lamb, which had no mouth; but instead of it was furnished with an opening in the lower part of the neck into the stomach. Both these instances evidently favour the doctrine of the fetus being nourished by the mouth; as otherwise there had been no necessity for new or unnatural apertures into the stomach, when the natural ones were deficient? From these facts and observations we may safely infer, that the fetus in the womb is nourished by the fluid which surrounds it; which during the first period of gestation is absorbed by the naked lacteals; and is afterwards swallowed into the stomach and bowels, when these organs are perfected; and lastly that the placenta is an organ for the purpose of giving due oxygenation to the blood of the fetus; which is more necessary, or at least more frequently necessary, than even the supply of food. The question of the great Harvey becomes thus easily answered. "Why is not the fetus in the womb suffocated for want of air, when it remains there even to the tenth month without respiration: yet if it be born in the seventh or eighth month, and has once respired, it becomes immediately suffocated for want of air, if its respiration be obstructed?" For further information on this subject, the reader is referred to the Tentamen Medicum of Dr. Jeffray, printed at Edinburgh in 1786. And it is hoped that Dr. French will some time give his theses on this subject to the public. About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain. Darwin, Erasmus, 2005. Zoonomia, Vol. Or, the Laws of Organic Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15707/15707-h/15707-h.htm#sect_XXXVIII This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.