Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/150

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be what he had foreseen. He then extended the inquiry. Placing under a bell-jar twenty-four plums, he filled the jar with carbonic-acid gas; beside it he placed twenty-four similar plums uncovered. At the end of eight days he removed the plums from the jar, and compared them with the others. The difference was extraordinary. The uncovered fruits had become soft, watery,-and very sweet; the others were firm and hard, their fleshy portions being not at all watery. They had, moreover, lost a considerable quantity of their sugar. They were afterward bruised, and the juice distilled. It yielded six and a half grammes of alcohol, or one per cent, of the total weight of the plums. Neither in these plums, nor in the grapes first experimented on by Pasteur, could any trace of the ordinary alcoholic leaven be found. The fermentation was the work of the living cells of the fruit itself, after air had been denied to them. When, moreover, the cells were destroyed by bruising, no fermentation ensued. The fermentation was the correlative of a vital act, and it ceased when life was extinguished.

Lüdersdorf was the first to show by this method that yeast acted, not, as Liebig had assumed, in virtue of its organic, but in virtue of its organized, character. He destroyed the cells of yeast by rubbing them on a ground-glass plate, and found that with the destruction of the organism, though its chemical constituents remained, the power to act as a ferment totally disappeared.

One word more in reference to Liebig may find a place here. To the philosophic chemist thoughtfully pondering these phenomena, familiar with the conception of molecular motion, and the changes produced by the interactions of purely chemical forces, nothing could be more natural than to see in the process of fermentation a simple illustration of molecular instability, the ferment propagating to surrounding molecular groups the overthrow of its own tottering combinations. Broadly considered, indeed, there is a certain amount of truth in this theory; but Liebig, who propounded it, missed the very kernel of the phenomena when he overlooked or contemned the part played in fermentation by microscopic life. He looked at the matter too little with the eye of the body, and too much with the spiritual eye. He practically neglected the microscope, and was unmoved by the knowledge which its revelations would have poured in upon his mind. His hypothesis, as I have said, was natural—nay, it was a striking illustration of Liebig's power to penetrate and unveil molecular actions; but it was an error, and as such has proved an ignis fatuus instead of a pharos to some of his followers.

I have said that our air is full of the germs of ferments differing from the alcoholic leaven, and sometimes seriously interfering with the latter. They are the weeds of this microscopic garden which often overshadow and choke the flowers. Let us take an illustrative case. Expose boiled milk to the air. It will cool, and then turn