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Biology Matters for G.C.E.

'O' Level - Internet Links (Ch 06)

Internet Links
Chapter 6 Nutrition in Humans
Ulcers and Digestive Disorders - Internet Link on page 98
Learn facts about ulcers and digestive disorders here:

Beaumont's Experiment on Protein Digestion - Internet Link on page 100

One early attempt to find out what is happening in our stomach started in June 1822 when Alexis St
Martin, an American army porter, was accidentally shot by a musket fired from close range. One of the
wounds he suffered was a large hole in his abdomen through which the contents of his recently eaten
breakfast spilled out. Surprisingly, St Martin survived this horrific injury and became a walking
experiment for an army doctor, William Beaumont.
The hole in Alexis abdomen never healed properly and Beaumont, therefore, had a window though
which he could enter and study the inner workings of the digestive system. Initially the hole was
plugged with a tightly rolled bandage but eventually a flap of skin grew over the hole. This acted like a
sort of valve which could be opened and closed by pressing on it. With Alexis consent, Beaumont
carried out a series of experiments through this valve, lasting nine years.
Beaumont tells how he could press on the abdomen above the liver and obtain yellow bile through the
valve. He also removed and analysed stomach contents. You will read about one of his experiments
later. This approach to analysing digestion is also used in animals where tubes, called canulas, are
placed into the stomach or intestines. The contents of the stomach and intestines can then be removed
through these tubes and analysed.
You now have enough information to begin to make sense of William Beaumont's experiments with
Alexis St Martin. It is important that scientists learn to read each other's work and make sense out of it.
The language used by Beaumont may seem rather strange because he was writing more than 150 years
The following is an account of one of the experiments he performed. Items in square brackets have
been added to explain what Beaumont is talking about.
11th January. At 3 oclock p.m. dined on bread and eight ounces of recently salted beef, four ounces of
potatoes, and four ounces of turnips, boiled [Turnips are a type of root vegetable]. In fifteen minutes,
took out a portion of the contents of the stomach. The meat made its appearance in an incipient stage of
digestion. At 3 oclock, 45 minutes, took out another portion. The meat and the bread only appeared in
a still more advanced stage of digestion.
The texture of the meat was, at this time, broken into small shreds, soft and pulpy, and the fluid
containing it had become more opaque and quite gruel-like, or rather glutinous in appearance.
I put this second parcel in a vial [a test-tube] and placed it in water, on the sand bath, at the temperature
of the stomach, (100 Fahrenheit) as indicated by the thermometer immediately preceding its
extraction, and continued it there [left it there].

At 5 oclock, took out another quantity. Digestion had advanced in about the same ratio from the first
to the second time of extracting; and when compared with the second parcel, contained in the vial on
the bath, little or no difference could be perceived in them; both were nearly in the same stage of
digestion. That contained in the vial had advanced regularly and rapidly; nearly all the particles of meat
had disappeared, become chymified, and changed into a reddish-brown sediment, suspended in the
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Biology Matters for G.C.E. 'O' Level - Internet Links (Ch 06)
more fluid parts, with small particles, resembling loose, white coagulate, floating about near the
On taking out the third parcel, small pieces of vegetables appeared in a partial stage of digestion. This
was also put into a vial and placed on a bath with the second parcel, and the same uniform temperature
(100 F) kept up with frequent, gentle agitation.
At 6 oclock p.m., digestion had progressed equally in both. The only difference to be seen was the
particles of vegetables in less-advanced stage than the meat.
The contents of both vials, kept on the bath, and nearly in the same temperature, until the next morning,
were completely digested, except the few particles of vegetables which remained almost entire.
The contents of the vials at this time were of the consistency of thin jelly, and of a lightish brown
colour; tasting peculiarly insipid, saltish and acid. After standing at rest awhile, the brownish sediment
subsided towards the bottom, while small particles of whitish coloured, loose coagulate floated about in
the fluid above. The undigested particles of vegetable settled to the bottom.
1. Produce a diary or time line to show the various steps that were carried out in the experiment in your
own words. This will help you to understand what was going on. You could do this in the form of a

Observation on stomach contents

Observation on test tube contents

2. Which food was the first to be digested in the stomach? What processes would have been responsible
for this digestion?
3. Describe the stages in the digestion of the salted lean beef. What is the beef mainly made out of?
4. Why were the glass vials placed in a sand bath at 100 F? Why did the food continue to be digested
in the glass vials?
5. Which food was digested the least in the stomach? Why do you think this happened?
6. What is chymification? Describe the chyme produced by the stomach.
7. Why did the contents of the glass vial when tasted appear to be acid?

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