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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/397

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THE SCAVENGERS OF THE BODY.

to this extent simply a physical phenomenon, which MM. Mascart and Bordet have clearly distinguished. As soon as a leucocyte touches a resisting body it reacts to the contact by applying the largest possible surface to it. It spreads out, becomes thin, stretches itself along, and ceases deforming itself only after it has obtained the maximum of contact. By such mechanism it penetrates objects that offer it any breach and overcomes them. When the foreign body has been disaggregated into fragments, into small enough grains, phagocytosis intervenes and disposes of the remains. In this way the organism sometimes rids itself of splinters of bone that remain in the tissues after a fracture. So, too, the leucocytes, when occasion arises, repair the blunders of surgeons by extracting and absorbing forgotten objects left in wounds, while at other times they act as auxiliaries by destroying things that have been voluntarily abandoned in them, like threads of catgut in buried sutures and drains of decalcified bone.

There are two conditions, under normal circumstances, in which phagocytosis plays a marked part. The first is the case where vital action brings on the destruction of the organs or the tissues, or, to use exact language, their disintegration in a solid form. The wastes of organic activity are usually in liquid form, and, turned into the blood, they are eliminated in that state through the natural emunctories. Sometimes, however, disintegration results in solid wastes, and the phagocytes do the work of carrying them away. This is the case with the red globules of the blood, which, after a longer or shorter career, are deposited in the spleen and break up into débris, some of the parts of which are insoluble in the interstitial liquids. The leucocytes collect around these residues so thickly as sometimes to fuse themselves into a solid mass, a sort of plasmodium or giant cell which digests the débris. At other times, and more rarely the isolated leucocytes are not able to absorb the incorporated matters. They then conduct them to the surface of the intestine and discharge them there. A like phenomenon occurs in the liver. The coloring matter of the blood frequently gives rise to insoluble ferruginous deposits which the leucocytes have to convey to the digestive tube. This occurs when a wound provokes an effusion of blood and a mortification of the red globules or of the neighboring anatomical elements. All of the waste that can not take the liquid form and pass in that condition into the circulatory passages is incorporated within the phagocytes. The mechanism of resorption of bone does not seem different.

The phagocytes perform a similar function in another process which very frequently takes place in various animals that pass through metamorphoses, as in insects whose organs are transformed