« AnteriorContinuar »
for us the special flavour we desire in our wines or in our beers,
Large and splendidly-equipped laboratories exist for the express purpose of studying all kinds and descriptions of yeasts, for finding out their characteristic functions, and cultivating them with all the tenderness and care that a modern gardener bestows upon the rarest orchids.
All this is now an old story, but some sixty years ago the great battle had yet to be fought which was to establish once and for all the dependence of fermentation upon life, and vanquish for ever those subtle arguments which so long refused to life any participation in the work of fermentation and other closely allied phenomena.
When, however, Pasteur finally cleared away the débris of misconception which had so long concealed from view the vital character of the changes associated with these processes, the bacterial ball, if we may so call it, was set rolling with a will, and information concerning these minute particles of living matter was rapidly gathered up from all directions.
The recognition so long refused to bacteria was now ungrudgingly given, for it was realised at last that, in the words of M. Duclaux, “Whenever and wherever there is decomposition of organic matter, whether it be the case of a weed or an oak, of
a worm or a whale, the work is exclusively performed by infinitely small organisms. They are the important, almost the only, agents of universal hygiene; they clear away more quickly than the dogs of Constantinople or the wild beasts of the desert the remains of all that has had life; they protect the living against the dead. They do more; if there are still living beings, if, since the hundreds of centuries the world has been inhabited, life continues, it is to them we owe it.”
Fortunately, the provisions made by Nature for the preservation of the bacterial race are of so lavish a description that no fear need be entertained that this useful and indispensable world of life will be wiped out. The fabulous capacity for multiplication possessed by them (a new generation arising in considerably less than an hour), the powers of endurance which some of them exhibit in presence of the most trying vicissitudes of heat and cold (they have been known to survive exposure lasting for seven days to a temperature of about - 200° C.), the inability of starvation or desiccation to undermine their constitution, combine to render the question of the extinction of bacteria as remote as it is undesirable.
Tempted by the prospects of exploring in this newly-revealed world of life, investigators rushed
into the field, and the bacterial fever has been hardly less pronounced in these last years than that rush for a material golden harvest which has characterised so many enterprises in southern latitudes.
The scientific results of this microbe fever have happily, however, been of a more solid and substantial character than be said to have followed the more tangible but sordid ventures in South African mines. Vague hypotheses have given place to facts, and bacteria have been brought more and more within the horizon of human knowledge, thanks to the genius and untiring zeal of investigators all over the world.
By mechanical improvements in microscopes, and subtle methods for colouring bacteria, enabling us to study their form with precision, by ingenious devices for supplying them with suitable food materials, or, in other words, by the creation of bacterial nurseries, providing the means for watching their growth and observing their distinctive habits and character, this important branch of the vegetable kingdom has been raised from obscurity to one of the principal places in our catalogue of sciences, and Bacteriology has won for itself an individual footing in the scientific curriculum of our great educational institutions, and is represented in literature by such famous
serials devoted to the publication of bacterial and allied researches as the Annales de l'Institut Pasteur, the Centralblatt für Bakteriologie, the Zeitschrift für Hygiene, the Annali d'Igiene Sperimentale, and other well-known journals which constitute an essential but ever-increasing burden upon the library shelves as well as pocket of the investigator.
Museums of bacteria have been established where not only specimens of particular varieties of a permanent character for comparison and reference can be obtained, but living cultivations of hundreds of different micro - organisms are maintained; and only those who have had the charge of bacteria can realise the enormous amount of skilled labour involved in the catering for such a multitude, in which individual likes and dislikes in regard to diet and treatment must, if success is to be secured, be as carefully considered as is necessary in the case of the most delicate and highly pampered patient.
Bacteria, by means of these depôts, can, in fact, be bought or exchanged by collectors with as much facility as postage stamps, with the allimportant difference that this collecting of bacteria is not a mere mania or speculation, but serves a most useful purpose.
To the busy investigator who cannot afford
either the time or space in which to maintain a large bacterial family, it is of immense convenience to be able to obtain at a moment's notice a trustworthy culture, say, of typhoid or tuberculosis, or specimens of obscurer origin from air or water for purposes of investigation. These bacterial cultures are all guaranteed pure, free from contamination or admixture with other and alien micro-organisms, and are strictly what they are represented to be. Although such a declaration is attached to many commodities at the present day with ludicrous incongruity, in the case of micro-organisms such a breach of faith is unknown, and the antecedents of a microbe may be said to be regarded as of as much moment and to be as jealously preserved as is the pedigree of the most ambitious candidate for honours at a cattle or dog show!
Amongst some of the curiosities to be found on the shelves of microbe-museums may be mentioned bacteria which give out light, and thus, like glowworms, reveal themselves in the dark. These light-bacteria were originally discovered in seawater and on the bodies of sea-fish, and cultures of them have been successfully photographed, the only source of light being that provided by the bacilli themselves. The amount of light emitted by a single bacillus might indeed defy detection