Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/495

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SPONTANEOUS GENERATION.

such differences. Given two experimenters equally skillful and equally careful, operating in different places on the same infusions, in the same way, and assuming the one to obtain life while the other fails to obtain it; then its well-established absence in the one case proves that some ingredient foreign to the infusion must be its cause in the other.

Spallanzani's sealed flasks contained but small quantities of air, and as oxygen was afterward shown to be generally essential to life, it was thought that the. absence of life observed by Spallanzani might have been due to the lack of this vitalizing gas. To dissipate this doubt, Schulze in 1836 half-tilled a flask with distilled water, to which animal and vegetable matters were added. First boiling his infusion to destroy whatever life it might contain, Schulze sucked daily into his flask air which had passed through a series of bulbs containing concentrated sulphuric acid, where all germs of life suspended in the air were supposed to be destroyed. From May to August this process was continued without any development of infusorial life.

Here, again, the success of Schulze was due to his working in comparatively pure air, but even in such air his experiment is a very risky one. Germs will pass, unwetted and unscathed, through sulphuric acid, unless the most special care is taken to detain them. I have repeatedly failed, by repeating Schulze's experiments, to obtain his results. Others have failed likewise. The air passes in bubbles through the bulbs, and, to render the method secure, the passage of the air must be so slow as to cause the whole of its floating matter, even to the core of each bubble, to touch the surrounding liquid. But, if this precaution be observed, water will be found quite as effectual as sulphuric acid. By the aid of an air pump, in a highly-infective atmosphere, I have thus drawn air for weeks without intermission, first through bulbs containing water, and afterward through vessels containing organic infusions, without any appearance of life. The germs were not killed, but they were effectually intercepted, while the objection that the air had been injured by being brought into contact with strongly corrosive substances was avoided.

The brief paper of Schulze, published in Poggendorf’s Annalen for 1836, was followed in 1837 by another short and pregnant communication by Schwann. Redi, as we have seen, traced the maggots of putrefying flesh to the eggs of flies. But he did not and he could not know the meaning of putrefaction itself. He had not the instrumental means to inform him that it also is a phenomenon attendant on the development of life. This was first proved in the paper now alluded to. Schwann placed flesh in a flask filled to one-third of its capacity with water, sterilized the flask by boiling, and then supplied it for months with calcined air. Throughout this time "there appeared no mould, no infusoria, no putrefaction; the flesh remained unaltered, while the liquid continued as clear as it was immediately after boiling."