Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/596

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

quiry with which we investigate all other occurrences in nature. In the light of the germ-theory, disease is a struggle for existence beticeen the parts of the organism and some parasite invading it. From this point of view, diseases become a part of the Darwinian programme of nature.

The animal body may be compared to a vast colony, consisting as it does of a mass of cells the ultimate elements of life. Each tissue, be it bone, muscle, liver, or brain, is made up of cells of its own kind, peculiar to and characteristic of the tissue. Each cell represents an element living by itself, but capable of continuing its life only by the aid it gets from other cells. By means of the blood-vessels and the nervous system, the different cells of the body are put into a state of mutual connection and dependence. The animal system resembles in this way a republic, in which each citizen depends upon others for protection, subsistence, and the supply of the requisites of daily life. Accustomed as each citizen is to this mutual interdependence, he could not exist without it. Each citizen of this animal colony, each cell, can thrive only as long as the conditions persist to which it is adapted. These conditions comprise the proper supply of food and oxygen, the necessary removal of the waste products formed by the chemical activity of all parts of the body, the protection against external mechanical forces and temperature, as well as a number of minor details. Any interference with these conditions of life impairs the normal activity of the entire body, or, as the case may be, of the individual cells concerned. But the animal system possesses the means of resisting damaging influences. Death or inactivity of one or a few citizens does not disable the state. The body is not such a rigid piece of mechanism that the breakage of one wheel can arrest the action of the whole. Within certain limits, any damage done to individual groups of cells can be repaired by the compensating powers of the organism. It is only when this compensating faculty fails, when the body can not successfully resist an unfavorable influence, that a disturbance arises which we call disease. This definition enables us to understand how external violence, improper or insufficient food, poisons, and other unaccustomed influences, can produce disease. But modern research has rendered it likely that the diseases due to such causes are not so numerous as the affections produced by invasion of the body by parasites.

Of these a few are known to be animals—for instance, the trichina, and some worms found in the blood in certain rare diseases. But the bulk of the hosts we have to contend with is of vegetable nature, and belongs to the lowest order of fungi commonly termed bacteria.

Special names have been given to the different subdivisions of this class of microscopic beings—the rod-shaped bacteria being termed bacilli; the granular specimens, micrococci; while the rarer forms, of the shape of a screw, are known as spirilla.

Bacteria surround us from all quarters. The surface of the earth