Saturday, July 18, 2015

Beaumont, William - just poke the wound and see digestion working live!

William Beaumont was the U.S. Army surgeon who, in 1822, treated the 19 year old Alexis St. Martin for a gun shot to the stomach at close range. He thought Alexis would die, but he didn't. In fact, the wound healed up in such a way that by applying pressure to the area, Beaumont was able to look right into the stomach and watch digestion as it occurred!

This allowed Beaumont to perform a variety of experiments on him over the following years. Most of the experiments involved tying a piece of food to a string and then inserting into the hole in the stomach. He would then remove the food every few hours and see how it had been digested. He also extracted a sample of gastric acid for analysis. This all led to the discovery that digestion is primarily a chemical process as opposed to a physical one.

Poor Alexis does not seem to have been an enthusiastic participant. Beaumont actually got him to sign a contract to work as a servant, so in addition to helping Beaumont perform groundbreaking research, he also chopped wood for him.

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