Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/12

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which we call cocci, and the rod-like forms or bacilli. These early studies were almost exclusively botanical in nature and it was not until 1872 that Cohn could include definite disease-producing bacteria in his classification of the vegetable microorganisms.

Bacilli had been found, it is true, as early as 1850 in diseased animals, for example, the anthrax bacillus in animals dying of splenic fever. So also Schonlein in 1839 had discovered a vegetable parasite, a mycelial form, higher than the bacteria, in the disease of the skin known as favus; Malmsten in 1848 had found a somewhat similar form in barber's itch, and Bassi about 1832 had demonstrated that a disease of the silkworm was due to a minute cryptogamic plant. But the importance of these observations was not widely appreciated and no general relation was established between bacteria and disease in man.

Likewise, theories of infection which explained disease as due to invisible microorganisms had been propounded as early as 1762, as for example that of Plenciz, which, based on Leeuwenhoek's discoveries, ascribed to every disease its particular microorganism, explained the decomposition of animal and vegetable material as due to microorganisms, postulated the growth of bacteria in living tissues and suggested the possibility of the transmission of disease virus by the air. Such views, naturally, were without experimental basis and without even an objective knowledge of the microorganisms supposed to be etiologically concerned. In other words the propounder of this theory, as others after him, believed more than he could prove. By the middle of the century, however, observations on bacteria, largely as the result of the labors of botanists, were accumulating, and views about spontaneous generation, fermentation and infection were being discussed, but the fundamental experiments necessary to settle these problems were yet to be made, and, curiously enough, it was to a chemist, influenced by the methods of physics, who was to establish bacteriology as a biological science and to give to it the important place in medicine which it has occupied for the past thirty years.

Pasteur was this chemist, and his first great discovery was in crystallography, the explanation of the behavior of one of the tartaric acids to polarized light. This acid obtained from the lees of wine was, unlike other acids of the group, inactive to polarized light. This inactivity Pasteur demonstrated to be due to the fact that it was made up of two isomeric constituents. The crystals of one of these constituents bore hemihedral facets on the right side and rotated the plane of polarized light to the right, and those of the other bore similar facets on the left, and therefore, rotated to the left, but, as Pasteur found, when combined, these crystals did not rotate the plane of polarized light at all. This, the first of his discoveries, was in 1818, the year that Virchow was investigating typhus fever in Silesia. If it