Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/66

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Chemistry has already given proof that it is competent to produce isomeric changes in a considerable number of bodies (as we have seen for hyposulphite of soda); and nothing permits us to certify that, after having produced non-living albumen, it will not ultimately find means to determine in it the isomeric change which will make living albumen of it. It is proper to remark, besides, that life itself produces two isomeric states of albumen: one, the active state in protoplasm; and the other, the passive or inert state in the albumen of the egg, in birds. The latter, which is destined to feed the embryo, may be preserved intact for years, and show itself indifferent to oxygen, which can neither oxidize it nor contribute to its breaking up. It should be remarked, besides, that this albumen, deprived of the leavening power, is a product of secretion of the cells of the oviduct—a fact which comes to the support of the thoughts I have expressed above on the mechanism of excretion.

To create simple living matter the chemist may follow different ways. He may exactly reproduce the conditions of the medium which have favored the appearance of living matter; or, he may find new conditions that will lead to the same result, by producing, for example, the isomeric change of which we have just spoken. The same synthesis may, in fact, be produced in different ways, as has been seen in the case of alcohol. "Will the chemist ever realize either of these conditions? Who can say peremptorily, No? The creation of living matter by chemistry is not, therefore, a priori absolutely impossible.

But, supposing these conditions realized, will the chemist be able to give rise to parcels of living matter which, like the first created at the origin of life on the globe, can become the starting-point for successive generations and for a new evolution in the present conditions of Nature? It seems to me that the answer to this question must be negative—for the reason that the first created parcels lived and were propagated through a long series of ages, among the same conditions as prevailed at their birth; they have since subsisted, notwithstanding the modifications of the medium, because those modifications, slow and taking long spaces of time, have permitted living matter to modify itself slowly and adapt itself to the new conditions. The question, then, amounts to asking, Will the chemist who shall realize, during a sufficient time and within a limited space, the conditions that formerly presided over the formation of living matter, be able to maintain them during sufficient time or to modify them slowly enough for living matter to have to adapt itself and enter into useful and conservative relations with actual Nature? If we consider the time Nature has required to reach this result of adaptation, we may logically conclude that such experiences are utterly outside of the