Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/616

This page has been validated.

any one of a hundred other putrid liquids, animal or vegetable. So long as the liquid contains the living bacteria, a speck of it communicated to the clear mineral solution, or to the clear turnip-infusion, produces in twenty-four hours the effect that we have described.

We now vary the experiment thus: Opening the back-door of another closed chamber which has contained for months the pure mineral solution and the pure turnip-infusion side by side, I drop into each of them a small pinch of laboratory dust. The effect here is tardier than when the speck of putrid liquid was employed. In three days, however, after its infection with the dust, the turnip-infusion is muddy, and swarming as before with bacteria. But what about the mineral solution which, in our first experiment, behaved in a manner undistinguishable from the turnip-juice? At the end of three days there is not a bacterium to be found in it. At the end of three weeks it is equally innocent of bacterial life. We may repeat the experiment with the solution and the infusion a hundred times, with the same invariable result. Always in the case of the latter the sowing of the atmospheric dust yields a crop of bacteria—never in the former does the dry germinal matter kindle into active life.[1] What is the inference which the reflecting mind must draw from this experiment? Is it not as clear as day that while both liquids are able to feed the bacteria and to enable them to increase and multiply, after they have been once fully developed, only one of the liquids is able to develop into active bacteria the germinal dust of the air?

I invite my friend to reflect upon this conclusion; he will, I think, see that there is no escape from it. He may, if he prefers it, hold the opinion, which I consider erroneous, that bacteria exist in the air, not as germs but as desiccated organisms. The inference remains that, while the one liquid is able to force the passage from the inactive to the active state, the other is not.

But this is not at all the inference which has been drawn from experiments with the mineral solution. Seeing its ability to nourish bacteria when once inoculated with the living active organism, and observing that no bacteria appeared in the solution after long exposure to the air, the inference was drawn that neither bacteria nor their germs existed in the air. Throughout Germany the ablest literature of the subject, even that opposed to heterogeny, is infected with this error; while heterogenists at home and abroad have based upon it a triumphant demonstration of their doctrine. It is proved, they say, by the deportment of the mineral solution that neither bacteria nor their germs exist in the air; hence, if, on exposing a thoroughly sterilized turnip-infusion to the air, bacteria appear, they must of necessity have been spontaneously generated. In the words

  1. This is the deportment of the mineral solution as described by others. My own experiments would lead me to say that the development of the bacteria, though exceedingly slow and difficult, is not impossible.