Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/713

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with mould. Here, surely, we have a case of spontaneous generation. Let us look to its history.

After the air has been expelled from a boiling liquid, it is difficult to continue the ebullition without "bumping." The liquid remains still for intervals, and then rises with sudden energy. It did so in the case now under consideration; and one of the tubes boiled over, the liquid overspreading the resinous surface in which the bell-jar was imbedded. For three weeks the infusions had remained perfectly clear. At the end of this time, with a view of renewing the air of the bell-jar, it was exhausted, and refilled by fresh air which had passed through a plug of cotton-wool. As the air entered, attention was attracted by two small spots of penicillium resting on the liquid which had boiled over. It was at once remarked that the experiment was a dangerous one, as the entering air would probably detach some of the spores of the penicillium, and diffuse them in the bell-jar. This was, therefore, filled very slowly, so as to render the disturbance a minimum. Next day, however, a tuft of mycelium was observed at the bottom of one of the three tubes; namely, that containing the hay-infusion. It has by this time grown so as to fill a large portion of the tube. For nearly a month longer, the two tubes containing the turnip and mutton infusions maintained their transparency unimpaired. Late in December, the mutton-infusion, which was in dangerous proximity to the outer mould, showed a tuft upon its surface. The beef-infusion continued bright and clear for nearly a fortnight longer. The recent cold weather caused me to add a third gas-stove to the two which had previously warmed the room in which the experiments are conducted. The warmth of this stove played upon one side of the bell-jar, causing currents; and, on the day after the lighting of the stove, the beef-infusion gave birth to a tuft of mycelium. In this case, the small spots of penicillium might have readily escaped attention; and, had they done so, we should have had here three cases of "spontaneous generation" far more striking than many that have been adduced.

In further illustration of the dangers incurred in this field of inquiry, the excellent paper of Dr. Roberts on "Biogenesis," in the Philosophical Transactions for 1874, is referred to. Dr. Roberts fills the bulb of an ordinary pipette up to about two-thirds of its capacity with the infusion to be examined. In the neck of the pipette he places a plug of dry cotton-wool. He then hermetically seals the neck, and dips the bulb into boiling water or hot oil, where he permits it to remain the requisite time. Here we have no disturbance from ebullition, and no loss by evaporation. The bulb is removed from the hot water, and permitted to cool. The sealed end of the neck is then filed off, the cotton-wool alone interposing between the infusion and the atmosphere.

The arrangement is beautiful, but it has one weak point. Cotton-wool free from germs is not to be found, and the plug employed by