Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/247

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239
PHYSICAL AGENTS AND BACTERIAL LIFE.

still remain of primary importance in relation to many industrial processes in which they play a vital part. It will be seen, therefore, that their biology presents many points of interest to scientific workers generally. Their study as factors that ultimately concern us really began with Pasteur's researches upon fermentation. The subject of this evening's discourse, the effect of physical agents on bacterial life, is important not merely as a purely biological question, though this phase is of considerable interest, but also on account of the facts I have already indicated, viz., that micro-organisms fulfil such an important function in the processes of nature, in industrial operations and in connection with the health of man and animals. It depends largely on the physical conditions to be met with in nature whether they die or remain inactive. Further, the conditions favoring one organism may be fatal to another, or an adaptability may be brought about to unusual conditions for their life. To the technologist the effect of physical agents in this respect is of importance, as a knowledge of their mode of action will guide him to the means to be employed for utilizing the micro-organisms to the best advantage in processes of fermentation. The subject is of peculiar interest to those who are engaged in combating disease, as a knowledge of the physical agents that favor or retard bacterial life will furnish indications for the preventive measures to be adopted. With a suitable soil and an adequate temperature the propagation of bacteria proceeds with great rapidity. If the primary conditions of soil and an adequate temperature are not present, the organisms will not multiply, they remain quiescent or they die. The surface layers of the soil harbor the vast majority of the bacteria, and constitute the great storehouse in nature for these forms of life. They lessen in number in the deeper layers of the soil, and few or none are to be met with at a depth of 8-10 feet. As a matter of fact, the soil is a most efficient bacterial filter, and the majority of the bacteria are retained in its surface layers and are to be met with there. In the surface soil, most bacteria find the necessary physical conditions for their growth, and may be said to exist there under natural conditions. It is in the surface soil that their main scavenging functions are performed. In the deeper layers, the absence of air and the temperature conditions prove inimical to most forms.

Amongst pathogenic bacteria the organisms of lockjaw and of malignant œdema appear to be eminently inhabitants of the soil. As an indication of the richness of the surface soil in bacteria, I may mention that 1 gramme of surface soil may contain from several hundred thousand to as many as several millions of bacteria. The air is poorest in bacteria. The favoring physical conditions to be met with in the soil are not present in the air. Though bacteria are to be met with in the air. they are not multiplying forms, as is the case in