Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Skin

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The skin has many roles in control of the core body temperature which can be associated with a structure and processes which are involved. This shall be discussed in the following essay. Organisms require a certain temperature range for the optimum functioning of their enzymes. Consequently, temperature is an important environmental abiotic factor. Most living things are adapted to life in terrestrial or in aquatic habitats tolerate a narrower temperature range than normally occurs in these habitats.

Heat is gained and lost by either heat being transferred by radiation, convection, conduction and evaporation or by heat being lost by radiation, convection, and by evaporation of water vapour by the body surface.

Animals were once described as either “cold blooded” or (poikilothermic), meaning the body temperature fluctuates according to the temperature of the environment, or as “warm blooded” (homoeothermic), meaning that the body is maintained at a constant temperature. However the terms “cold blooded” and “warm blooded” have been discarded.

Since the body temperatures of poikilotherms may, at times, be as high as those of homiotherms, a more revealing distinction is to use the terms “ecotherms” for organisms obtaining heat from external sources, and “endotherms” for organisms that generate their body heat metabolically.

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The basal metabolism of the organs of the body generates heat. Most birds and mammals maintain their body temperature within the narrow range of 6 � 4 C. by using metabolic heat and controlling its loss, or by increasing heat production by muscles when the body becomes cold. In the human, body temperature is normally held between 7 and 8 C, but is not completely constant. Human body temperature does fluctuate, both on a regular basis through the 4-hour cycle, as a result of exercise, at ovulation in the human female and following intake of food that is particularly hot or cold.

The body’s regulation of heat loss is mediated through the skin. A thin outer layer, the epidermis, consists of stratified epithelium. The cells in the basal Malphighian layer of the epidermis constantly divide, pushing the cells above towards the skin surface. The dermis, below the epidermis, is a much thicker layer, consisting of elastic connective tissue containing blood capillaries, lymph vessels, hair follicles, muscle fibers and sweat glands. Hairs are formed in unvaginations of the dermis, the hair follicles. Near the base of each follicle an erector pili muscle is inserted, having its origin on the base (basement membrane) of the epidermis. Hairs are covered by a film of oil from the sebaceous glands, which keeps them supple and waterproof.

The sweat glands are coiled tubular exocrine glands connected to the surface of the skin by ducts. In human skin, sweat glands are common are common; in hairy mammals they are rare. The sweat produced is a weak solution of sodium chloride. When sweat passes to the skin epidermis, its evaporation cools down the skin. Thus, blood in the skin is cooled. Blood capillaries occur in abundance in the dermis. Some vessels, called shunts, allow blood to fill or by-pass certain capillary beds and so help to regulate skin temperature.

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