Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/149

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137
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

manner. In aërated liquids they flourish without any production of alcohol, but cut off from free oxygen they act as ferments, producing alcohol exactly as the real alcoholic leaven produces it, only less copiously. For all this knowledge we are indebted to Pasteur.

In the cases hitherto considered, the fermentation is proved to be the invariable correlative of life, being produced by organisms foreign to the fermentable substance. But the substance itself may also have within it, to some extent, the motive power of fermentation. The yeast-plant, as we have learned, is an assemblage of living cells; but so at bottom, as shown by Schleiden and Schwann, are all living organisms. Cherries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, and grapes, for example, are composed of cells, each of which is a living unit. And here I have to direct your attention to a point of extreme interest. In 1821, the celebrated French chemist, Bérard, established the important fact that all ripening fruit, exposed to the free atmosphere, absorbed the oxygen of the atmosphere, and liberated an approximately equal volume of carbonic acid. He also found that, when ripe fruits were placed in a confined atmosphere, the oxygen of the atmosphere was first absorbed, and an equal quantity of carbonic acid given out. But the process did not end here. After the oxygen had vanished, carbonic acid, in considerable quantities, continued to be expired by the fruits, which at the same time lost a portion of their sugar, becoming more acid to the taste, though the absolute quantity of acid was not augmented. This was an observation of capital importance, and Bérard had the sagacity to remark that the process might be regarded as a kind of fermentation.

Thus the living cells of fruits can absorb oxygen and breathe out carbonic acid, exactly like the living cells of the leaven of beer. Supposing the access of oxygen suddenly cut off, will the living fruit-cells as suddenly die, or will they continue to live as yeast lives, by extracting oxygen from the saccharine juices round them? This is a question of extreme theoretic significance. It was first answered affirmatively by the able and conclusive experiments of Lechartier and Bellamy, and the answer was subsequently confirmed and explained by the experiments and the reasoning of Pasteur. Bérard only showed the absorption of oxygen and the production of carbonic acid; Lechartier and Bellamy proved the production of alcohol, thus completing the evidence that it was a case of real fermentation. Influenced by his theoretic views, so full was Pasteur of the idea that the cells of a fruit would continue to live at the expense of the sugar of the fruit, that once in his laboratory, while conversing on these subjects with M. Dumas, he exclaimed, "I will wager that if a grape be plunged into an atmosphere of carbonic acid, it will produce alcohol and carbonic acid by the continued life of its own cells—that they will act for a time like the cells of the true alcoholic leaven." He made the experiment, and found the result to