Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/396

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

getic and most special agencies of living chemistry, to the ferments which determine the coagulation of the blood when drawn from the vessels (coagulating ferment, or thrombosis) and the consumption of sugar (glycolytic ferment), and to numerous diastases. The presence of nuclein in their bodies involves consequences which we are only beginning to perceive.

Behaving like independent beings, the leucocytes or phagocytes perform similar functions with those of the highest animals, feeding, respiring, and reproducing themselves; they move and feel—that is, are impressed by internal excitants. These operations, however, assume with them a character of extreme simplicity. They seem to be the direct result of the physical and chemical properties of the protoplasm that composes them, so that the mysterious side of those vital functions nearly vanishes when we scan them in these their very beginnings. Their respiration is the effect of a sort of affinity between their substance and the vital gas—a chimiotactism directing them toward oxygen. This may be illustrated by forming a microscopic preparation of fresh lymph, imprisoning a few bubbles of air, and sealing it hermetically with paraffin. After two or three hours we can see the leucocytes grouped around the bubbles. When the provision of air is exhausted, several hours afterward, the leucocytes will cease to move and become inert. On inserting a needle, the contact of the air revives them.

The faculty possessed by the leucocytes of seizing solid corpuscles coming in contact with them, inglobing them, and absorbing them, or, as M. Metchnikoff calls it, intracellular digestion or phagocytosis, is easily observed. If we mix fine granulations of carmine or cinnabar, mingled with slightly salted water, with a drop of lymph, we can see the coloring matter penetrating the leucocytary protoplasmic mass, which is soon stuffed with it. The anatomo-pathologists had already observed, in tattooed subjects, white globules charged with grains of charcoal or vermilion. It is legitimate to conclude that some parts of the coloring matter that had been introduced under the epidermis had been taken up by the white globules. This proceeding has been observed in the very act by M. Metchnikoff.

A classic experiment illustrating this operation is now common in our laboratories, and the fact of phagocytosis has come to be regarded as incontestable.

The generality of the phenomenon results from the leucocyte preserving its phagocytic faculty in all its peregrinations, and these peregrinations are unlimited. The tendency of the nomadic elements to push on and insinuate themselves into the finest interstices and the narrowest passages is a rudiment of a tactile sense,