Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/151

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139
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

sour, separating like blood into clot and serum. Place a drop of this sour milk under a powerful microscope and watch it closely. You see the minute butter-globules animated by that curious quivering motion called the Brownian motion.[1] But let not this attract your attention too much, for it is another motion that we have now to seek. Here and there you observe a greater disturbance than ordinary among the globules; keep your eye upon the place of tumult, and you will probably see emerging from it a long, eel-like organism, tossing the globules aside and wriggling more or less rapidly across the held of the microscope. Familiar with one sample of this organism, which from its motions receives the name of vibrio, you soon detect numbers of them. It is these organisms which, by decomposing the milk, render it sour. This vibrio is in fact the butyric-acid ferment, as the yeast-plant is the alcoholic ferment. Keep the vibrio and its germs out of your milk and it will never turn sour. But, instead of becoming sour, milk may become putrid. This is due to the action of another living ferment. Examine your putrid milk microscopically, and you find it swarming with organisms much shorter than the vibrios, and manifesting sometimes a wonderful alacrity of motion. Keep this smaller organism and its germs out of your milk and it will never putrefy. Expose a mutton-chop to the air and keep it moist; in summer weather it soon stinks. Place a drop of the juice of the fetid chop under a powerful microscope; it is seen swarming with organisms resembling those in the putrid milk. These organisms, which receive the common name of bacteria,[2] are the agents of all putrefaction. Keep them and their germs from your meat and it wall remain forever sweet. Thus we begin to see that within the world of life to which we ourselves belong there is another living world requiring the microscope for its discernment, but which, nevertheless, has the most important bearing on the welfare of the higher life-world.

And now let us reason together as regards the origin of these bacteria. A granular powder is placed in your hands, and you are asked to state what it is. You examine it, and have, or have not, reason to suspect that seeds of some kind are mixed up in it. But you prepare a bed in your garden, sow in it the powder, and soon after find a mixed crop of docks and thistles sprouting from your bed. Until this powder was sown neither docks nor thistles ever made their appearance in your garden. You repeat the experiment once, twice, ten times, fifty times. From fifty different beds after the sowing of the powder you obtain the same crop. What will be your response to the question proposed to you? "I am not in a condition," you would say, "to affirm that every grain of the powder is a dock-seed or a thistle-seed; but I am in a condition to affirm that both dock and

  1. Which I am inclined to regard as an effect of surface tension.
  2. Doubtless organisms exhibiting grave specific differences are grouped together under this common name.