Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/308

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304 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

die of starvation. The green plant is the one independent organism on the globe ; all others are in a way parasitic. As you well know, the green plant in sunlight elaborates starch from water and carbon dioxide, and the primitive food thus synthesized becomes the basis for further changes whereby nitrogen and other materials are built into the body of the plant. Thus arise the starches, sugars, oils and proteid materials which constitute the substance of the plant body and which serve us as foods, absolutely essential to the continuance of our lives.

In my opinion th« time is not far distant when we shall be emanci- pated from this slavery to the green plant. No seriously minded chemist of the present day believes that there is any inherent impossibility in the repetition of the chemical processes of the organism, in the labora- tory. The days of this form of vitalism have long since passed away. The difficulty that confronts the biological chemist in attempting to repeat the chemical processes of the organism is the enormous com- plexity of even the simpler of these operations. Hence he has not yet achieved that kind of success that even the scientific public seems to expect of him. But is this expectation reasonable? Are we warranted in finding him wanting because he has not yet made an amoeba? I think not. To ask him to make an amoeba is like asking an engineer to duplicate New York City. With infinite toil and pains it could be done. But who or what would be the better? One New York is enough. Better study the processes of New York or the amoeba than attempt to duplicate in totality either organism and, having learned what these processes are, apply them to human welfare. This is the attitude we must assume toward the green plant. We must learn its processes and, having learned them, we must apply them to our needs.

If the green plant in sunlight can elaborate from water and carbon dioxide one of our chief food substances, starch, there is no reason why the biological chemist should not discover the secret of this process and imitate it on a commercial scale. Starch, I believe, has never been synthesized, but some sugars have been so constructed. Two years ago Stoklasa and Sdobnicky made the remarkable discovery that by the action of ultraviolet light on nascent hydrogen and carbon dioxide sugar was formed. Such discoveries as this suggest the means by which we are to throw off our slavery to the green plant and I am convinced that in time this overthrow will become so complete that our staple foods will be the products of the biological chemist.

From this standpoint the attitude of many of our pure food enthu- siasts seems to me entirely erroneous. Why object to the cheaper sjti- thetic colors and flavors in prepared foods provided they are not poison- ous in themselves and contain no injurious by-products? As a matter of fact these very colors and flavors are often purer than the natural materials. From the point of view of public morals, such mixtures

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