Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/13

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9
THE MECHANISTIC CONCEPTION OF LIFE

to which a definite amount of butyric acid (or some other monobasic fatty acid) has been added. If after that time the eggs are brought back into normal sea-water, all form a fertilization membrane in exactly the same way as if a spermatozoon had entered. This membrane formation or rather the modification of the surface of the egg which underlies the membrane formation starts the development. It does not allow it, however, to go very far at room temperature. In order to allow the development to go further it is necessary to submit the eggs after the butyric acid treatment to a second operation. Here we have a choice between two methods. We can either put the eggs for about one half hour into a hypertonic solution (which contains free oxygen); or we can put them for about three hours into sea-water deprived of oxygen. If the eggs are then returned to normal seawater containing oxygen they all develop; and in a large number the development is as normal as if a spermatozoon had entered.

The essential feature is therefore the fact that the development is caused by two different treatments of the egg; and that among these the treatment resulting in the formation of the membrane is the more important one. This is proved by the fact that in certain forms, as for instance the star-fish, the causation of the artificial membrane formation may suffice for the development of normal larvæ; although here too the second treatment increases not only the number of larvæ, but also improves the appearance of the larvæ, as R. Lillie found.

The question now arises, how the membrane formation can start the development of the egg. An analysis of the process and of the nature of the agencies which cause it yielded the result that the unfertilized egg possesses a superficial cortical layer, which must be destroyed before the egg can develop. It is immaterial by what means this superficial cortical layer is destroyed. All agencies, which cause a definite type of cell destruction—the so-called cytolysis—cause also the egg to develop, as long as their action is limited to the surface layer of the cell. The butyric acid treatment of the egg mentioned above only serves to induce the destruction of this cortical layer. In the eggs of some animals this cortical layer can be destroyed mechanically by shaking the egg, as A. P. Mathews found in the case of star-fish eggs and I in the case of the eggs of certain worms. In the case of the eggs of the frog it suffices to pierce the cortical layer with a needle, as Bataillon found in his beautiful experiments a year ago.[1] The mechanism by which development is caused is apparently the same in all these cases, namely, the destruction of the cortical layer of the eggs. This can be caused generally by certain chemical means which play a

  1. This method does not work with the eggs of fish and is apparently as limited in its applicability as the causation of development by mechanical agitation.