Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/99

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87
PASTEUR'S RESEARCHES IN GERM-LIFE.

mercial tartrate of lime, sullied with organic matters of various kinds, fermented on being dissolved in water and exposed to summer heat. Thus prompted, Pasteur prepared some pure, right-handed tartrate of ammonia, mixed with it albuminous matter, and found that the mixture fermented. His solution, limpid at first, became turbid, and the turbidity he found to be due to the multiplication of a microscopic organism, which found in the liquid its proper aliment. Pasteur recognized in this little organism a living ferment. This bold conclusion was doubtless strengthened, if not prompted, by the previous discovery of the yeast-plant—the alcoholic ferment—by Cagniard-Latour and Schwann.

Pasteur next permitted his little organism to take the carbon necessary for its growth from the pure paratartrate of ammonia. Owing to the opposition of its two classes of crystals, a solution of this salt, it will be remembered, does not turn the plane of polarized light either to the right or to the left. Soon after fermentation had set in, a rotation to the left was noticed, proving that the equilibrium previously existing between the two classes of crystals had ceased. The rotation reached a maximum, after which it was found that all the right-handed tartrate had disappeared from the liquid. The organism thus proved itself competent to select its own food. It found, as it were, one of the tartrates more digestible than the other, and appropriated it, to the neglect of the other. No difference of chemical constitution determined its choice; for the elements, and the proportions of the elements, in the two tartrates were identical. But the peculiarity of structure which enabled the substance to rotate the plane of polarization to the right also rendered it a fit aliment for the organism. This most remarkable experiment was successfully made with the seeds of our common mold (Penicillium glaucum).

Here we find Pasteur unexpectedly landed amid the phenomena of fermentation. With true scientific instinct he closed with the conception that ferments are, in all cases, living things, and that the substances formerly regarded as ferments are in reality the food of the ferments. Touched by this wand, difficulties fell rapidly before him. He proved the ferment of lactic acid to be an organism of a certain kind. The ferment of butyric acid he proved to be an organism of a different kind. He was soon led to the fundamental conclusion that the capacity of an organism to act as a ferment depended on its power to live without air. The fermentation of beer was sufficient to suggest this idea. The yeast-plant, like many others, can live either with or without free air. It flourishes best in contact with free air, for it is then spared the labor of wresting from the malt the oxygen required for its sustenance. Supplied with free air, however, it practically ceases to be a ferment; while in the brewing-vat, where the work of fermentation is active, the budding torula is completely cut off by the sides of the vessel, and by a deep layer of carbonic-acid