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The Digestive System

The digestive system (gut) is a series of organs and glands that processes food. Humans are
heterotrophic organisms, and as such, take in food that is too complex to be absorbed directly.
Thus, the digestive system through mechanical and chemical digestion breaks down food into
simpler substances that can be absorbed by the body.

Some food particles are already small enough and are in the right form, so they don’t need to
be digested. These include vitamins, minerals simple sugars and water.

The gut is basically a tube, which is adapted to perform different functions along its length.
E.g the duodenum is a tube where food is mixed with enzymes from organs like the liver and
pancreas while the illeum is the site where absorption of most substances takes place.

The Human Gut

The human digestive system is a coiled, muscular tube (6-9 meters long when fully extended)
extending from the mouth to the anus. Several specialized compartments occur along this
length: mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus.
Accessory digestive organs are connected to the main system by a series of ducts: salivary
glands, parts of the pancreas, and the liver and gall bladder.

At one end. . At the other end. Here. the undigested remains of a meal are removed through the anus (egested). The food stays in the stomach for between 1 and 2 hours. proteins are broken down to polypeptides. It requires acidic conditions (pH 2–3). Here food is mixed with saliva. 1 . This acts on proteins and breaks them down into peptides.The Mouth Ingestion is the act of taking food into the mouth. The enzyme at work is called pepsin. 2 .The Stomach The stomach has elastic walls which stretch as food collects in it. Parts of the Human Gut Different parts of the gut perform different tasks in processing food as it passes through. food is put into the mouth and ingested. Chewing (mechanical breakdown) breaks the food into pieces which can be swallowed and also increases the surface area for enzymes to work upon.

Each villus is about 1 mm long and is covered with microscopic hair-like structures called microvilli. a sphincter at the bottom of the stomach opens up and the chyme (partly digested food) flows down to the small intestine.The Pancreas The pancreas is a digestive gland lying beneath the stomach. Food has been broken down into particles small enough to pass into the small intestine. 2. Alcohol and aspirin are absorbed through the stomach lining into the blood. The enzymes are contained in the pancreatic juice. nearest to the colon. It makes a number of enzymes which act on all classes of food. is called the ileum. This is where digested food is absorbed into the blood. . Villi have cells that produce intestinal enzymes which complete the digestion of peptides and sugars. This provides plenty of time for digestion and absorption.The Small Intestine The small intestine is very long – about 5 metres. 3 . There are various specialised cells in the lining of the stomach which secrete pepsin. the pancreatic juice also contains sodium hydrogencarbonate (NaHCO3). This is where food is mixed with intestinal juice. Final digestion of proteins and carbohydrates takes place in the small intestine. The pancreas secretes enzymes into the duodenum. 1. It has two sections: the first part nearest the stomach is the duodenum. pancreatic juice and bile. The structure of the small intestine is very specialised. as well as providing the right pH for pepsin to work. Lipase digests fats to fatty acids and glycerol. It is covered in finger-like protections called villi. Eventually (after about 2 hours). which travels into the duodenum via the pancreatic duct. Fats have not yet been digested. The absorption process also occurs in the small intestine. 4 . The acid kills off many of the bacteria and neutralises alkali. The lower part. This neutralises the hydrochloric acid in the chyme and provides an alkaline pH for the enzymes. Apart from enzymes. Pancreatic amylase attacks starch converting it to maltose. mucus and hydrochloric acid which makes a weak solution with the gastric juice. The rest of the chemical digestion takes place in the small intestine.

7 . the esophagus leads to a series of three extra compartments. Bile is a yellowish-green colour.The Liver The liver secretes bile which is stored in the gall bladder behind the liver. dairy and goats. and passes into the duodenum via the bile duct. have no obvious function in the human digestive system. These emulsify fats: they turn large droplets into small droplets. Digestion in herbivores In cattle and sheep. If food remains in the colon for too long.The Large Intestine The food that is not digested and absorbed in the small intestine is passed on into the colon. undigested matter. the rumen. If food does not stay in for long enough. What arrives here is mainly water. causing constipation. the reticulum and the omasum. Steps in digestion . The rumen is the main fermentation vat where billions of microorganisms attack and break down the relatively indigestible feed components of the ruminant's diet. mucus and dead cells from the lining of the alimentary canal. The colon reabsorbs water into the body. the opposite occurs: diarrhoea.Caecum and Appendix The caecum and appendix. This segment of the digestive system is one of the most important parts when considering the feeding of beef. The rumen and reticulum contain countless microorganisms whose metabolic activity greatly enhances the nutritive value of typical ruminant feed. and also reabsorbs salt. but it does contain bile salts. instead of opening directly into a glandular stomach where digestion begins . sheep. It does not contain any enzymes.5 . too much water is absorbed. 6 . The semi solid waste called faeces is passed into the rectum by peristalsis and expelled at intervals through the anus. also known as the large intestine.

2. 3. . Continuous and prolonged side to side movements of the jaws draws the animal’s ridged teeth closely across each other grinding up the cellulose walls of plant cells into a fine consistency. A sheep or cow uses its long flexible tongue to place a tuft of grass between the lower incisors and horny pad of the upper jaw. At the next stage.1. 4. The food is swallowed for a second time and goes into the rest of the digestive system for digestion and absorption to be completed. the second chamber of the stomach where it is moulded into round balls of ‘cud’ which are returned to the mouth for chewing. The food is not chewed immediately but swallowed whole and stored in the rumen. grass is moved from the rumen to the retuculum.