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- The Story Of Germ Life - 2/26 -

that Fuchs made a careful study of the infection of "blue milk," reaching the correct conclusion that the infection was caused by a microscopic organism which he discovered and carefully studied. It is true that Henle made a general theory as to the relation of such organisms to diseases, and pointed out the logically necessary steps in a demonstration of the causal connection between any organism and a disease. It is true also that a general theory of the production of ail kinds of fermentation by living organisms had been advanced. But all these suggestions made little impression. On the one hand, bacteria were not recognised as a class of organisms by themselves--were not, indeed, distinguished from yeasts or other minute animalcuise. Their variety was not mistrusted and their significance not conceived. As microscopic organisms, there were no reasons for considering them of any more importance than any other small animals or plants, and their extreme minuteness and simplicity made them of little interest to the microscopist. On the other hand, their causal connection with fermentative and putrefactive processes was entirely obscured by the overshadowing weight of the chemist Liebig, who believed that fermentations and putrefactions were simply chemical processes. Liebig insisted that all albuminoid bodies were in a state of chemically unstable equilibrium, and if left to themselves would fall to pieces without any need of the action of microscopic organisms. The force of Liebig's authority and the brilliancy of his expositions led to the wide acceptance of his views and the temporary obscurity of the relation of microscopic organisms to fermentative and putrefactive processes. The objections to Liebig's views were hardly noticed, and the force of the experiments of Schwann was silently ignored. Until the sixth decade of the century, therefore, these organisms, which have since become the basis of a new branch of science, had hardly emerged from obscurity. A few microscopists recognised their existence, just as they did any other group of small animals or plants, but even yet they failed to look upon them as forming a distinct group. A growing number of observations was accumulating, pointing toward a probable causal connection between fermentative and putrefactive processes and the growth of microscopic organisms; but these observations were known only to a few, and were ignored by the majority of scientists.

It was Louis Pasteur who brought bacteria to the front, and it was by his labours that these organisms were rescued from the obscurity of scientific publications and made objects of general and crowning interest. It was Pasteur who first successfully combated the chemical theory of fermentation by showing that albuminous matter had no inherent tendency to decomposition. It was Pasteur who first clearly demonstrated that these little bodies, like all larger animals and plants, come into existence only by ordinary methods of reproduction, and not by any spontaneous generation, as had been earlier claimed. It was Pasteur who first proved that such a common phenomenon as. the souring of milk was produced by microscopic organisms growing in the milk. It was Pasteur who first succeeded in demonstrating that certain species of microscopic organisms are the cause of certain diseases, and in suggesting successful methods of avoiding them. All these discoveries were made in rapid succession. Within ten years of the time that his name began to be heard in this connection by scientists, the subject had advanced so rapidly that it had become evident that here was a new subject of importance to the scientific world, if not to the public at large. The other important discoveries which Pasteur made it is not our purpose to mention here. His claim to be considered the founder of bacteriology will be recognised from what has already been mentioned. It was not that he first discovered the organisms, or first studied them; it was not that he first suggested their causal connection with fermentation and disease, but it was because he for the first time placed the subject upon a firm foundation by proving with rigid experiment some of the suggestions made by others, and in this way turned the attention of science to the study of micro-organisms.

After the importance of the subject had been demonstrated by Pasteur, others turned their attention in the same direction, either for the purpose of verification or refutation of Pasteur's views. The advance was not very rapid, however, since bacteriological experimentation proved to be a subject of extraordinary difficulty. Bacteria were not even yet recognised as a group of organisms distinct enough to be grouped by themselves, but were even by Pasteur at first confounded with yeasts. As a distinct group of organisms they were first distinguished by Hoffman in 1869, since which date the term bacteria, as applying to this special group of organisms, has been coming more and more into use. So difficult were the investigations, that for years there were hardly any investigators besides Pasteur who could successfully handle the subject and reach conclusions which could stand the test of time. For the next thirty years, although investigators and investigations continued to increase, we can find little besides dispute and confusion along this line. The difficulty of obtaining for experiment any one kind of bacteria by itself, unmixed with others (pure cultures), rendered advance almost impossible. So conflicting were the results that the whole subject soon came into almost hopeless confusion, and very few steps were taken upon any sure basis. So difficult were the methods, so contradictory and confusing the results, because of impure cultures, that a student of to-day who wishes to look up the previous discoveries in almost any line of bacteriology need hardly go back of 1880, since he can almost rest assured that anything done earlier than that was more likely to be erroneous than correct.

The last fifteen years have, however, seen a wonderful change. The difficulties had been mostly those of methods of work, and with the ninth decade of the century these methods were simplified by Robert Koch. This simplification of method for the first time placed this line of investigation within the reach of scientists who did not have the genius of Pasteur. It was now possible to get pure cultures easily, and to obtain with such pure cultures results which were uniform and simple. It was now possible to take steps which had the stamp of accuracy upon them, and which further experiment did not disprove. From the time when these methods were thus made manageable the study of bacteria increased with a rapidity which has been fairly startling, and the information which has accumulated is almost formidable. The very rapidity with which the investigations have progressed has brought considerable confusion, from the fact that the new discoveries have not had time to be properly assimilated into knowledge. Today many facts are known whose significance is still uncertain, and a clear logical discussion of the facts of modern bacteriology is not possible. But sufficient knowledge has been accumulated and digested to show us at least the direction along which bacteriological advance is tending, and it is to the pointing out of these directions that the following pages will be devoted.


The most interesting facts connected with the subject of bacteriology concern the powers and influence in Nature possessed by the bacteria. The morphological side of the subject is interesting enough to the scientist, but to him alone. Still, it is impossible to attempt to study the powers of bacteria without knowing something of the organisms themselves. To understand how they come to play an important part in Nature's processes, we must know first how they look and where they are found. A short consideration of certain morphological facts will therefore be necessary at the start.


In shape bacteria are the simplest conceivable structures. Although there are hundreds of different species, they have only three general forms, which have been aptly compared to billiard balls, lead pencils, and corkscrews. Spheres, rods, and spirals represent all shapes. The spheres may be large or small, and may group themselves in various ways; the rods may be long or short, thick or slender; the spirals may be loosely or tightly coiled, and may have only one or two or may have many coils, and they may be flexible or stiff; but still rods, spheres, and spirals comprise all types.

In size there is some variation, though not very great. All are extremely minute, and never visible to the naked eye. The spheres vary from 0.25 u to 1.5 u (0.000012 to 0.00006 inches). The rods may be no more than 0.3 u in diameter, or may be as wide as 1.5 u to 2.5 u, and in length vary all the way from a length scarcely longer than their diameter to long threads. About the same may be said of the spiral forms. They are decidedly the smallest living organisms which our microscopes have revealed.

In their method of growth we find one of the most characteristic features. They universally have the power of multiplication by simple division or fission. Each individual elongates and then divides in the middle into two similar halves, each of which then repeats the process. This method of multiplication by simple division is the distinguishing mark which separates the bacteria from the yeasts, the latter plants multiplying by a process known as budding. Fig. 2 shows these two methods of multiplication.

While all bacteria thus multiply by division, certain differences in the details produce rather striking differences in the results. Considering first the spherical forms, we find that some species divide, as described, into two, which separate at once, and each of which in turn divides in the opposite direction, called Micrococcus, (Fig. 3). Other species divide only in one direction. Frequently they do not separate after dividing, but remain attached. Each, however, again elongates and divides again, but all still remain attached. There are thus formed long chains of spheres like strings of beads, called Streptococci (Fig. 4). Other species divide first in one direction, then at right angles to the first division, and a third division follows at right angles to the plane of the first two, thus producing solid groups of fours, eights, or sixteens (Fig 5), called Sarcina. Each different species of bacteria is uniform in its method of division, and these differences are therefore indications of differences in species, or, according to our present method of classification, the different methods of division represent different genera. All bacteria producing Streptococcus chains form a single genus Streptococcus, and all which divide in three division planes form another genus, Sarcina, etc.

The rod-shaped bacteria also differ somewhat, but to a less extent. They almost always divide in a plane at right angles to their longest dimension. But here again we find some species separating immediately after division, and thus always appearing as short rods (Fig. 6), while others remain attached after division and form long chains. Sometimes they appear to continue to increase in length without showing any signs of division, and in this way long threads are formed (Fig. 7). These threads are, however, potentially at least, long chains of short rods, and under proper conditions they will break up into such short rods, as shown in Fig. 7a. Occasionally a rod species may divide

The Story Of Germ Life - 2/26

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