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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/171

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CORRELATION OF VITAL AND PHYSICAL FORCES.

known to me when I wrote my article. They have been sent to me in the last few years by their respective authors. Neither of these authors, however, extends this principle to vegetation, the most fundamental and most important phenomenon of life. In 1857 the same idea was again brought out by Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, and by him extended to vegetation. I do not, therefore, now claim to have first advanced this idea, but I do claim to have in some measure rescued it from vagueness, and given it a clearer and more scientific form.

I wish now to apply these principles in the explanation of the most important phenomena of vegetable and animal life:

1. Vegetation.—The most important phenomenon in the life-history of a plant—in fact, the starting-point of all life, both vegetable and animal—is the formation of organic matter in the leaves. The necessary conditions for this wonderful change of mineral into organic matter seem to be, sunlight, chlorophyl, and living protoplasm, or bioplasm. This is the phenomenon I wish now to discuss.

The plastic matters of which vegetable structure is built are of two kinds—amyloids and albuminoids. The amyloids, or starch and sugar groups, consist of C, H, and O; the albuminoids of C, H, O, N, and SP. The quantity of sulphur and phosphorus is very small, and we will neglect them in this discussion. The food out of which these substances are elaborated are, CO2, H2O, and H3N—carbonic acid, water, and ammonia. Now, by the agency of sunlight in the presence of chlorophyl and bioplasm, these chemical compounds (CO2, H2O, H3N) are torn asunder, or shaken asunder, or decomposed; the excess of O, or of O and H, is rejected, and the remaining elements in a nascent condition combine to form organic matter. To form the amyloids, starch, dextrine, sugar, cellulose, only CO2 and H2O are decomposed, and excess of O rejected. To form albuminoids or protoplasm, CO2, H2O, and H3N are decomposed, and excess of O and H rejected.

It would seem in this case, therefore, that physical force (light) is changed into nascent chemical force, and this nascent chemical energy, under the peculiar conditions present, forms organic matter and reappears as vital force. Light falling on living green leaves is destroyed or consumed in doing the work of decomposition; disappears as light, to reappear as nascent chemical energy; and this in its turn disappears in forming organic matter, to reappear as the vital force of the organic matter thus formed. The light which disappears is proportioned to the O, or the O and H rejected; is proportioned also to the quantity of organic matter formed, and also to the amount of vital force resulting. To illustrate: In the case of amyloids, oxygen-excess falling or running down from plane No. 2 to plane No. 1 generates force to raise C, H, and O, from plane No. 2 to plane No. 3. In the case of albuminoids, oxygen-excess and hydrogen-excess running down from No. 2 to No. 1 generate force to raise C, H, O, and N, from No. 2 to