Louis Pasteur (1822–95). Scientific Papers.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
VI. Reply to the Critical Observations of Liebig, Published in 1870.
“I had admitted,” he says, “that the resolution of fermentable matter into compounds of a simpler kind must be traced to some process of decomposition taking place in the ferment, and that the action of this same ferment on the fermentable matter must continue or cease according to the prolongation or cessation of the alteration produced in the ferment. The molecular change in the sugar, would, consequently, be brought about by the destruction or modification of one or more of the component parts of the ferment, and could only take place through the contact of the two substances. M. Pasteur regards fermentation in the following light: The chemical action of fermentation is essentially a phenomenon correlative with a vital action, beginning and ending with it. He believes that alcoholic fermentation can never occur without the simultaneous occurrence of organization, development, and multiplication of globules, or continuous life, carried on from globules already formed. But the idea that the decomposition of sugar during fermentation is due to the development of the cellules of the ferment, is in contradiction with the fact that the ferment is able to bring about the fermentation of a pure solution of sugar. The greater part of the ferment is composed of a substance that is rich in nitrogen and contains sulphur. It contains, moreover, an appreciable quantity of phosphates, hence it is difficult to conceive how, in the absence of these elements in a pure solution of sugar undergoing fermentation, the number of cells is capable of any increase.”
Notwithstanding Liebig’s belief to the contrary, the idea that the decomposition of sugar during fermentation is intimately connected with a development of the cellules of the ferment, or a prolongation of the life of cellules already formed, is in no way opposed to the fact that the ferment is capable of bringing about the fermentation of a pure solution of sugar. It is manifest to any one who has studied such fermentation with the microscope, even in those cases where the sweetened water has been absolutely pure, that ferment-cells do multiply, the reason being that the cells carry with them all the food-supplies necessary for the life of the ferment. They may be observed budding, at least many of them, and there can be no doubt that those which do not bud still continue to live; life has other ways of manifesting itself besides development and cell-proliferation.
If we refer to the figures on page 81 of our Memoir of 1860, Experiments, D, E, F, H, I, we shall see that the weight of yeast, in the case of the fermentation of a pure solution of sugar, undergoes a considerable increase, even without taking into account the fact that the sugared water gains from the yeast certain soluble parts, since in the experiments just mentioned, the weights of solid yeast, washed and dried at 100° C. (212° F.), are much greater than those of the raw yeast employed, dried at the same temperature.
In these experiments we employed the following weights of yeast, expressed in grammes (1 gramme=15.43 grains):
(1) 2.313 (2) 2.626 (3) 1.198 (4) 0.699 (5) 0.326 (6) 0.476
which became, after fermentation, we repeat, without taking into account the matters which the sugared water gained from the yeast:
grammes. grains. (1) 2.486 Increase 0.173 = 2.65 (2) 2.963 Increase 0.337 = 5.16 (3) 1.700 Increase 0.502 = 7.7 (4) 0.712 Increase 0.013 = 0.2 (5) 0.335 Increase 0.009 = 0.14 (6) 0.590 Increase 0.114 = 1.75
Have we not in this marked increase in weight a proof of life, or, to adopt an expression which may be preferred, a proof of a profound chemical work of nutrition and assimilation?
We may cite on this subject one of our earlier experiments, which is to be found in the Comptes rendus de l’Académie for the year 1857, and which clearly shows the great influence exerted on fermentation by the soluble portion that the sugared water takes up from the globules of ferment:
“We take two equal quantities of fresh yeast that have been washed very freely. One of these we cause to ferment in water containing nothing but sugar, and, after removing from the other all its soluble particles—by boiling it in an excess of water and then filtering it to separate the globules—we add to the filtered liquid as much sugar as was used in the first case along with a mere trace of fresh yeast insufficient, as far as its weight is concerned, to affect the results of our experiment. The globules which we have sown bud, the liquid becomes turbid, a deposit of yeast gradually forms, and, side by side with these appearances, the decomposition of the sugar is effected, and in the course of a few hours manifests itself clearly. These results are such as we might have anticipated. The following fact, however, is of importance. In effecting by these means the organization into globules of the soluble part of the yeast that we used in the second case, we find that a considerable quantity of sugar is decomposed. The following are the results of our experiment; 5 grammes of yeast caused the fermentation of 12.9 grammes of sugar in six days, at the end of which time it was exhausted. The soluble portion of a like quantity of 5 grammes of the same yeast caused the fermentation of 10 grammes of sugar in nine days, after which the yeast developed by the sowing was likewise exhausted.”
How is it possible to maintain that, in the fermentation of water containing nothing but sugar, the soluble portion of the yeast does not act, either in the production of new globules or the perfection of old ones, when we see, in the preceding experiment, that after this nitrogenous and mineral portion has been removed by boiling, it immediately serves for the production of new globules, which, under the influence of the sowing of a mere trace of globules, causes the fermentation of so much sugar?
In short, Liebig is not justified in saying that the solution of pure sugar, caused to ferment by means of yeast, contains none of the elements needed for the growth of yeast, neither nitrogen, sulphur, nor phosphorus, and that, consequently, it should not be possible, by our theory, for the sugar to ferment. On the contrary, the solution does contain all these elements, as a consequence of the introduction and presence of the yeast.
Let us proceed without examination of Liebig’s criticisms:
“To this,” he goes on to say, “must be added the decomposing action which yeast exercises on a great number of substances, and which resembles that which sugar undergoes. I have shown that malate of lime ferments readily enough through the action of yeast, and that it splits up into three other calcareous salts, namely, the acetate, the carbonate and the succinate. If the action of yeast consists in its increase and multiplication, it is difficult to conceive this action in the case of malate of lime and other calcareous salts of vegetable acids.”
This statement, with all due deference to the opinion of our illustrious critic, is by no means correct. Yeast has no action on malate of lime, or on other calcareous salts formed by vegetable acids. Liebig had previously, much to his own satisfaction, brought forward urea as being capable of transformation into carbonate of ammonia during alcoholic fermentation in contact with yeast. This has been proved to be erroneous. It is an error of the same kind that Liebig again brings forward here. In the fermentation of which he speaks (that of malate of lime), certain spontaneous ferments are produced, the germs of which are associated with the yeast, and develop in the mixture of yeast and malate. The yeast merely serves as a source of food for these new ferments without taking any direct part in the fermentations of which we are speaking. Our researches leave no doubt on this point, as is evident from the observations on the fermentation of tartrate of lime previously given.
It is true that there are circumstances under which yeast brings about modifications in different substances. Doebereiner and Mitscherlich, more especially, have shown that yeast imparts to water a soluble material, which liquefies cane-sugar and produces inversion in it by causing it to take up the elements of water, just as diastase behaves to starch or emulsin to amygdalin.
M. Berthelot also has shown that this substance may be isolated by precipitating it with alcohol, in the same way as diastase is precipitated from its solutions. These are remarkable facts, which are, however, at present but vaguely connected with the alcoholic fermentation of sugar by means of yeast. The researches in which we have proved the existence of special forms of living ferments in many fermentations, which one might have supposed to have been produced by simple contact action, had established beyond doubt the existence of profound differences between those fermentations, which we have distinguished as fermentations proper, and the phenomena connected with soluble substances. The more we advance, the more clearly we are able to detect these differences. M. Dumas has insisted on the fact that the ferments of fermentation proper multiply and reproduce themselves in the process whilst the others are destroyed. Still more recently M. Müntz has shown that chloroform prevents fermentations proper, but does not interfere with the action of diastase (Comptes rendus, 1875). M. Bouchardat had already established the fact that hydrocyanic acids, salts of mercury, ether, alcohol, creosote, and the oils of turpentine, lemon, cloves, and mustard destroy or check alcoholic fermentations, whilst in no way interfering with the glucoside fermentations (Annales de Chimie et de Physique, 3rd series, vol. xiv., 1845). We may add in praise of M. Bouchardat’s sagacity, that that skilful observer has always considered these results as a proof that alcoholic fermentation is dependent on the life of the yeast-cell, and that a distinction should be made between the two orders of fermentation.
M. Paul Bert, in his remarkable studies on the influence of barometric pressure on the phenomena of life, has recognized the fact that compressed oxygen is fatal to certain ferments, whilst under similar conditions it does not interfere with the action of those substances classed under the name of soluble ferments, such as diastase (the ferment which inverts cane sugar), emulsin and others. During their stay in compressed air, ferments proper ceased their activity, nor did they resume it, even after exposure to air at ordinary pressures, provided the access of germs was prevented.
We now come to Liebig’s principal objection, with which he concludes his ingenious argument, and to which no less than eight or nine pages of the Annales are devoted.
Our author takes up the question of the possibility of causing yeast to grow in sweetened water, to which a salt of ammonia and some yeast-ash have been added—a fact which is evidently incompatible with his theory that a ferment is always an albuminous substance on its way to decomposition. In this case the albuminous substance does not exist; we have only the mineral substances which will serve to produce it. We know that Liebig regarded yeast, and, generally speaking, any ferment whatever, as being a nitrogenous, albuminous substance which, in the same way as emulsin, for example, possesses the power of bringing about certain chemical decompositions. He connected fermentation with the easy decomposition of that albuminous substance, and imagined that the phenomenon occurred in the following manner: “The albuminous substance on its way to decomposition possesses the power of communicating to certain other bodies that same state of mobility by which its own atoms are already affected; and through its contact with other bodies it imparts to them the power of decomposing or of entering into other combinations.” Here Liebig failed to perceive that the ferment, in its capacity of a living organism, had anything to do with the fermentation.
This theory dates back as far as 1843. In 1846 Messrs. Boutron and Fremy, in a Memoir on lactic fermentation, published in the Annales de Chimie et de Physique, strained the conclusions deducible from it to a most unjustifiable extent. They asserted that one and the same nitrogenous substance might undergo various modifications in contact with air, so as to become successively alcoholic, lactic, butyric, and other ferments. There is nothing more convenient than purely hypothetical theories, theories which are not the necessary consequences of facts; when fresh facts which cannot be reconciled with the original hypothesis are discovered, new hypotheses can be tacked on to the old ones. This is exactly what Liebig and Fremy have done, each in his turn, under the pressure of our studies, commenced in 1857. In 1864 Fremy devised the theory of hemi-organism, which meant nothing more than that he gave up Liebig’s theory of 1843, together with the additions which Boutron and he had made to it in 1846; in other words, he abandoned the idea of albuminous substances being ferments, to take up another idea, that albuminous substances in contact with air are peculiarly adapted to undergo organization into new beings—that is, the living ferments which we had discovered—and that the ferments of beer and of the grape have a common origin.
This theory of hemi-organism was word for word the antiquated opinion of Turpin. * * * The public, especially a certain section of the public, did not go very deeply into an examination of the subject. It was the period when the doctrine of spontaneous generation was being discussed with much warmth. The new word hemi-organism, which was the only novelty in M. Fremy’s theory, deceived people. It was thought that M. Fremy had really discovered the solution of the question of the day. It is true that it was rather difficult to understand the process by which an albuminous substance could become all at once a living and budding cell. This difficulty was solved by M. Fremy, who declared that it was the result of some power that was not yet understood, the power of “organic impulse.”
Liebig, who, as well as M. Fremy, was compelled to renounce his original opinions concerning the nature of ferments, devised the following obscure theory (Memoir by Liebig, 1870, already cited):
“There seems to be no doubt as to the part which the vegetable organism plays in the phenomenon of fermentation. It is through it alone that an albuminous substance and sugar are enabled to unite and form this particular combination, this unstable form under which alone, as a component part of the mycoderm, they manifest an action on sugar. Should the mycoderm cease to grow, the bond which unites the constituent parts of the cellular contents is loosened, and it is through the motion produced therein that the cells of yeast bring about a disarrangement or separation of the elements of the sugar into molecules.”
One might easily believe that the translator for the Annales has made some mistake, so great is the obscurity of this passage.
Whether we take this new form of the theory or the old one, neither can be reconciled at all with the development of yeast and fermentation in a saccharine mineral medium, for in the latter experiment fermentation is correlative to the life of the ferment and to its nutrition, a constant change going on between the ferment and its food-matters, since all the carbon assimilated by the ferment is derived from sugar, its nitrogen from ammonia and phosphorus from the phosphates in solution. And even all said, what purpose can be served by the gratuitous hypothesis of contact-action or communicated motion? The experiment of which we are speaking is thus a fundamental one; indeed, it is its possibility that constitutes the most effective point in the controversy. No doubt Liebig might say, “but it is the motion of life and of nutrition which constitutes your experiment, and this is the communicated motion that my theory requires.” Curiously enough, Liebig does endeavour, as a matter of fact, to say this, but he does so timidly and incidentally: “From a chemical point of view, which point of view I would not willingly abandon, a vital action is a phenomenon of motion, and, in this double sense of life M. Pasteur’s theory agrees with my own, and is not in contradiction with it (page 6).” This is true. Elsewhere Liebig says:
“It is possible that the only correlation between the physiological act and the phenomenon of fermentation is the production, in the living cell, of the substance which, by some special property analogous to that by which emulsin exerts a decomposing action on salicin and amygdalin, may bring about the decomposition of sugar into other organic molecules; the physiological act, in this view, would be necessary for the production of this substance, but would have nothing else to do with the fermentation (page 10).” To this, again, we have no objection to raise.
Liebig, however, does not dwell upon these considerations, which he merely notices in passing, because he is well aware that, as far as the defence of his theory is concerned, they would be mere evasions. If he had insisted on them, or based his opposition solely upon them, our answer would have been simply this: “If you do not admit with us that fermentation is correlated with the life and nutrition of the ferment, we agree upon the principal point. So agreeing, let us examine, if you will, the actual cause of fermentation; —this is a second question, quite distinct from the first. Science is built up of successive solutions given to questions of ever increasing subtlety, approaching nearer and nearer towards the very essence of phenomena. If we proceed to discuss together the question of how living, organized beings act in decomposing fermentable substances, we will be found to fall out once more on your hypothesis of communicated motion, since according to our ideas, the actual cause of fermentation is to be sought, in most cases, in the fact of life without air, which is the characteristic of many ferments.”
Let us briefly see what Liebig thinks of the experiment in which fermentation is produced by the impregnation of a saccharine mineral medium, a result so greatly at variance with his mode of viewing the question. After deep consideration he pronounces this experiment to be inexact, and the result ill-founded. Liebig, however, was not one to reject a fact without grave reasons for doing so, or with the sole object of evading a troublesome discussion. “I have repeated this experiment,” he says, “a great number of times, with the greatest possible care, and have obtained the same results as M. Pasteur, excepting as regards the formation and increase of the ferment.” It was, however, the formation and increase of the ferment that constituted the point of the experiment. Our discussion was, therefore, distinctly limited to this: Liebig denied that the ferment was capable of development in a saccharine mineral medium, whilst we asserted that this development did actually take place, and was comparatively easy to prove. In 1871 we replied to M. Liebig before the Paris Academy of Sciences in a Note, in which we offered to prepare in a mineral medium, in the presence of a commission to be chosen for the purpose, as great a weight of ferment as Liebig could reasonably demand. We were bolder than we should, perhaps, have been in 1860; the reason was that our knowledge of the subject had been strengthened by ten years of renewed research. Liebig did not accept our proposal, nor did he even reply to our Note. Up to the time of his death, which took place on April 18th, 1873, he wrote nothing more on the subject.
When we published, in 1860, the details of the experiment in question, we pointed out at some length the difficulties of conducting it successfully, and the possible causes of failure. We called attention particularly to the fact that saccharine mineral media are much more suited for the nutrition of bacteria, lactic ferment, and other lowly forms, than they are to that of yeast, and in consequence readily become filled with various organisms from the spontaneous growth of germs derived from the particles of dust floating in the atmosphere. The reason why we do not observe the growth of alcoholic ferments, especially at the commencement of the experiments, is because of the unsuitableness of those media for the life of yeast. The latter may, nevertheless, form in them subsequent to this development of other organized forms, by reason of the modification produced in the original mineral medium by the albuminous matters that they introduce into it. It is interesting to peruse, in our Memoir of 1860, certain facts of the same kind relating to fermentation by means of albumens—that of the blood for example, from which, we may mention incidentally, we were led to infer the existence of several distinct albumens in the serum, a conclusion which, since then, has been confirmed by various observers, notably by M. Béchamp. Now, in his experiments on fermentation in sweetened water, with yeast-ash and a salt of ammonia, there is no doubt that Liebig had failed to avoid those difficulties which are entailed by the spontaneous growth of other organisms than yeast. Moreover, it is possible that, to have established the certainty of this result, Liebig should have had recourse to a closer microscopical observation than from certain passages in his Memoir he seems to have adopted. We have little doubt that his pupils could tell us that Liebig did not even employ that instrument without which any exact study of fermentation is not merely difficult but wellnigh impossible. We ourselves, for the reasons mentioned, did not obtain a simple alcoholic fermentation any more than Liebig did. In that particular experiment, the details of which we gave in our Memoir of 1860, we obtained lactic and alcoholic fermentation together; an appreciable quantity of lactic acid formed and arrested the propagation of the lactic and alcoholic ferments, so that more than half of the sugar remained in the liquid without fermenting. This, however, in no way detracted from the correctness of the conclusion which we deduced from the experiment, and from other similar ones; it might even be said that, from a general and philosophical point of view—which is the only one of interest here—the result was doubly satisfactory, inasmuch as we demonstrated that mineral media were adapted to the simultaneous development of several organized ferments instead of only one. The fortuitous association of different ferments could not invalidate the conclusion that all the nitrogen of the cells of the cells of the alcoholic and lactic ferments was derived from the nitrogen in the ammoniacal salts, and that all the carbon of those ferments was taken from the sugar, since, in the medium employed in our experiment, the sugar was the only substance that contained carbon. Liebig carefully abstained from noticing this fact, which would have been fatal to the very groundwork of his criticisms, and thought that he was keeping up the appearance of a grave contradiction by arguing that we had never obtained a simple alcoholic fermentation. It would be unprofitable to dwell longer upon the subject of the difficulties which the propagation of yeast in a saccharine mineral medium formerly presented. As a matter of fact, the progress of our studies has imparted to the question an aspect very different from that which it formerly wore; it was this circumstance which emboldened us to offer, in our reply to Liebig before the Academy of Sciences in 1871, to prepare, in a saccharine mineral medium, in the presence of a commission to be appointed by our opponent, any quantity of ferment that he might require, and to effect the fermentation of any weight of sugar whatsoever.
Our knowledge of the facts detailed in the preceding chapter concerning pure ferments, and their manipulation in the presence of pure air, enables us completely to disregard those causes of embarrassment that result from the fortuitous occurrence of the germs of organisms different in character from the ferments introduced by the air or from the sides of vessels, or even by the ferment itself.
Let us once more take one of our double-necked flasks, which we will suppose is capable of containing three or four litres (six to eight pints).
Let us put into it the following:
Pure distilled water. Sugar candy 200 grammes Bitartrate of potassium 1.0 grammes ammonia 0.5 grammes Sulphate of ammonia 1.5 grammes Ash of yeast 1.5 grammes (1 gramme = 15.43 grains)
Let us boil the mixture, to destroy all germs of organisms that may exist in the air or liquid or on the sides of the flask, and then permit it to cool, after having placed, by way of extra precaution, a small quantity of asbestos in the end of the fine curved tube. Let us next introduce a trace of ferment into the liquid, through the other neck, which, as we have described, is terminated by a small piece of india-rubber tube closed with a glass stopper.
Here are the details of such an experiment:—
On December 9th, 1873, we sowed some pure ferment—saccharomyces pastorianus. From December 11, that is, within so short a time as forty-eight hours after impregnation, we saw a multitude of extremely minute bubbles rising almost continuously from the bottom, indication that at this point the fermentation had commenced. On the following days, several patches of froth appeared on the surface of the liquid. We left the flask undisturbed in the oven, at a temperature of 25° C. (77° F.) On April 24, 1874, we tested some of the liquid, obtained by means of the straight tube, to see if it still contained any sugar. We found that it contained less than two grammes, so that 198 grammes (4.2 oz. Troy) had already disappeared. Some time afterwards the fermentation came to an end; we carried on the experiment, nevertheless, until April 18, 1875.
There was no development of any organism absolutely foreign to the ferment, which was itself abundant, a circumstance that, added to the persistent vitality of the ferment, in spite of the unsuitableness of the medium for its nutrition, permitted the perfect completion of fermentation. There was not the minutest quantity of sugar remaining. The total weight of ferment, after washing and drying at 100° C. (212° F.), was 2.563 grammes (39.5 grains).
In experiments of this kind, in which the ferment has to be weighed, it is better not to use any yeast-ash that cannot be dissolved completely, so as to be capable of easy separation from the ferment formed. Raulin’s liquid may be used in such cases with success.
All the alcoholic ferments are not capable to the same extent of development by means of phosphates, ammoniacal salts, and sugar. There are some whose development is arrested a longer or shorter time before the transformation of all the sugar. In a series of comparative experiments, 200 grammes of sugar-candy being used in each case, we found that whilst saccharomyces pastorianus effected a complete fermentation of the sugar, the caseous ferment did not decompose more than two-thirds, and the ferment we have designated new “high” ferment not more than one-fifth: and keeping the flasks for a longer time in the oven had no effect in increasing the proportions of sugar fermented in these two last cases.
We conducted a great number of fermentations in mineral media, in consequence of a circumstance which it may be interesting to mention here. A person who was working in our laboratory asserted that the success of our experiments depended upon the impurity of the sugar-candy which we employed, and that if this sugar had been pure—much purer than was the ordinary, white, commercial sugar-candy, which up to that time we had always used—the ferment could not have multiplied. The persistent objections of our friend, and our desire to convince him, caused us to repeat all our previous experiments on the subject, using sugar of great purity, which had been specially prepared for us, with the utmost care, by a skilful confectioner, Seugnot. The result only confirmed our former conclusions. Even this did not satisfy our obstinate friend, who went to the trouble of preparing some pure sugar for himself, in little crystals, by repeated crystallizations of carefully selected commercial sugar-candy; he then repeated our experiments himself. This time his doubts were overcome. It even happened that the fermentations with the perfectly pure sugar instead of being slow were very active, when compared with those which we had conducted with the commercial sugar-candy.
We may here add a few words on the non-transformation of yeast into penicillium glaucum.
If at any time during fermentation we pour off the fermenting liquid, the deposit of yeast remaining in the vessel may continue there, in contact with air, without our ever being able to discover the least formation of penicillium glaucum in it. We may keep a current of pure air constantly passing through the flask; the experiment will give the same result. Nevertheless, this is a medium peculiarly adapted to the development of this mould, inasmuch as if we were to introduce merely a few spores of penicillium an abundant vegetation of that growth will afterwards appear on the deposit. The descriptions of Messrs. Turpin, Hoffmann, and Trécul have, therefore, been based on one of these illusions which we meet with so frequently in microscopical observations.
When we laid these facts before the Academy, M. Trécul professed his inability to comprehend them: “According to M. Pasteur,” he said, “the yeast of beer is anaërobian, that is to say, it lives in a liquid deprived of free oxygen; and to become mycoderma or penicillium it is above all things necessary that it should be placed in air, since, without this, as the name signifies, an aërobian being cannot exist. To bring about the transformation of the yeast of beer into mycoderma cerevisiae or into penicillium glaucum we must accept the conditions under which these two forms are obtained. If M. Pasteur will persist in keeping his yeast in media which are incompatible with the desired modification, it is clear that the results which he obtains must always be negative.”
Contrary to this perfectly gratuitous assertion of M. Trécul’s we do not keep our yeast in media which are calculated to prevent its transformation into penicillium. As we have just seen, the principal aim and object of our experiment was to bring this minute plant into contact with air, and under conditions that would allow the penicillium to develop with perfect freedom. We conducted our experiments exactly as Turpin and Hoffmann conducted theirs, and exactly as they stipulate that such experiments should be conducted—with the one sole difference, indispensable to the correctness of our observations, that we carefully guarded ourselves against those causes of error which they did not take the least trouble to avoid. It is possible to produce a ready entrance and escape of pure air in the case of the double-necked flasks which we have so often employed in the course of this work, without having recourse to the continuous passage of a current of air. Having made a file-mark on the thin curved neck at a distance of two or three centimetres (an inch) from the flask, we must cut round the neck at this point with a glazier’s diamond, and then remove it, taking care to cover the opening immediately with a sheet of paper which has been passed through the flame, and which we must fasten with a thread round the part of the neck still left. In this manner we may increase or prolong the fructification of fungoid growths, or the life of the aërobian ferments in our flasks.
What we have said of penicillium glaucum will apply equally to mycoderma cerevisiae. Notwithstanding that Turpin and Trécul may assert to the contrary, yeast, in contact with air as it was under the conditions of the experiment just described, will not yield mycoderma vini or mycoderma cerevisiae any more than it will penicillium.
The experiments described in the preceding paragraphs on the increase of organized ferments in mineral media of the composition described, are of the greatest physiological interest. Amongst other results, they show that all the proteic matter of ferments may be produced by the vital activity of the cells, which, apart altogether from the influence of light or free oxygen (unless indeed, we are dealing with aërobian moulds which require free oxygen), have the power of developing a chemical activity between carbo-hydrates, ammoniacal salts, phosphates, and sulphates of potassium and magnesium. It may be admitted with truth that a similar effect obtains in the case of the higher plants, so that in the existing state of science we fail to conceive what serious reason can be urged against our considering this effect as general. It would be perfectly logical to extend the results of which we are speaking to all plants, and to believe that the proteic matter of vegetables, and perhaps of animals also, is formed exclusively by the activity of the cells operating upon the ammoniacal and other mineral salts of the sap or plasma of the blood, and the carbo-hydrates, the formation of which, in the case of the higher plants, requires only the concurrence of the chemical impulse of green light.
Viewed in this manner, the formation of the proteic substances, would be independent of the great act of reduction of carbonic acid gas under the influence of light. These substances would not be built up from the elements of water, ammonia, and carbonic acid gas, after the decomposition of this last; they would be formed where they are found in the cells themselves, by some process of union between the carbo-hydrates imported by the sap, and the phosphates of potassium and magnesium and salts of ammonia. Lastly, in vegetable growth, by means of a carbo-hydrate and a mineral medium, since the carbo-hydrate is capable of many variations, and it would be difficult to understand how it could be split up into its elements before serving to constitute the proteic substances, and even cellulose substances, as these are carbo-hydrates. We have commenced certain studies in this direction.
If solar radiation is indispensable to the decomposition of carbonic acid and the building up of the primary substances in the case of higher vegetable life, it is still possible that certain inferior organisms may do without it and nevertheless yield the most complex substances, fatty or carbo-hydrate, such as cellulose, various organic acids, and proteic matter; not, however, by borrowing their carbon from the carbonic acid which is saturated with oxygen, but from other matters still capable of acquiring oxygen, and so of yielding heat in the process, such as alcohol and acetic acid, for example, to cite merely carbon compounds most removed from organization. As these last compounds, and a host of others equally adapted to serve as the carbonaceous food of mycoderms and the mucedines, may be produced synthetically by means of carbon and the vapour of water, after the methods that science owes to Berthelot, it follows that, in the case of certain inferior beings, life would be possible even if it should be that the solar light was extinguished.