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- The Story Of Germ Life - 3/26 -

lengthwise, but this is rare. Exactly the same may be said of the spiral forms. Here, too, we find short rods and long chains, or long spiral filaments in which can be seen no division into shorter elements, but which, under certain conditions, break up into short sections.


It is this power of multiplication by division that makes bacteria agents of such significance. Their minute size would make them harmless enough if it were not for an extraordinary power of multiplication. This power of growth and division is almost incredible. Some of the species which have been carefully watched under the microscope have been found under favourable conditions to grow so rapidly as to divide every half hour, or even less. The number of offspring that would result in the course of twenty-four hours at this rate is of course easily computed. In one day each bacterium would produce over 16,500,000 descendants, and in two days about 281,500,000,000. It has been further calculated that these 281,500,000,000 would form about a solid pint of bacteria and weigh about a pound. At the end of the third day the total descendants would amount to 47,000,000,000,000, and would weigh about 16,000,000 pounds. Of course these numbers have no significance, for they are never actual or even possible numbers. Long before the offspring reach even into the millions their rate of multiplication is checked either by lack of food or by the accumulation of their own excreted products, which are injurious to them. But the figures do have interest since they show faintly what an unlimited power of multiplication these organisms have, and thus show us that in dealing with bacteria we are dealing with forces of almost infinite extent.

This wonderful power of growth is chiefly due to the fact that bacteria feed upon food which is highly organized and already in condition for absorption. Most plants must manufacture their own foods out of simpler substances, like carbonic dioxide (Co2) and water, but bacteria, as a rule, feed upon complex organic material already prepared by the previous life of plants or animals. For this reason they can grow faster than other plants. Not being obliged to make their own foods like most plants, nor to search for it like animals, but living in its midst, their rapidity of growth and multiplication is limited only by their power to seize and assimilate this food. As they grow in such masses of food, they cause certain chemical changes to take place in it, changes doubtless directly connected with their use of the material as food. Recognising that they do cause chemical changes in food material, and remembering this marvellous power of growth, we are prepared to believe them capable of producing changes wherever they get a foothold and begin to grow. Their power of feeding upon complex organic food and producing chemical changes therein, together with their marvellous power of assimilating this material as food, make them agents in Nature of extreme importance.


While bacteria are thus very simple in form, there are a few other slight variations in detail which assist in distinguishing them. The rods are sometimes very blunt at the ends, almost as if cut square across, while in other species they are more rounded and occasionally slightly tapering. Sometimes they are surrounded by a thin layer of some gelatinous substance, which forms what is called a capsule (Fig. 10). This capsule may connect them and serve as a cement, to prevent the separate elements of a chain from falling apart.

Sometimes such a gelatinous secretion will unite great masses of bacteria into clusters, which may float on the surface of the liquid in which they grow or may sink to the bottom. Such masses are called zoogloea, and their general appearance serves as one of the characters for distinguishing different species of bacteria (Fig. 10, a and b). When growing in solid media, such as a nutritious liquid made stiff with gelatine, the different species have different methods of spreading from their central point of origin. A single bacterium in the midst of such a stiffened mass will feed upon it and produce descendants rapidly; but these descendants, not being able to move through the gelatine, will remain clustered together in a mass, which the bacteriologist calls a colony. But their method of clustering, due to different methods of growth, is by no means always alike, and these colonies show great differences in general appearance. The differences appear to be constant, however, for the same species of bacteria, and hence the shape and appearance of the colony enable bacteriologists to discern different species (Fig. II). All these points of difference are of practical use to the bacteriologist in distinguishing species.


In addition to their power of reproduction by simple division, many species of bacteria have a second method by means of spores. Spores are special rounded or oval bits of bacteria protoplasm capable of resisting adverse conditions which would destroy the ordinary bacteria. They arise among bacteria in two different methods.

Endogenous spores.--These spores arise inside of the rods or the spiral forms (Fig. 12). They first appear as slight granular masses, or as dark points which become gradually distinct from the rest of the rod. Eventually there is thus formed inside the rod a clear, highly refractive, spherical or oval spore, which may even be of a greater diameter than the rod producing it, thus causing it to swell out and become spindle formed [Fig. 12 c]. These spores may form in the middle or at the ends of the rods (Fig. 12). They may use up all the protoplasm of the rod in their formation, or they may use only a small part of it, the rod which forms them continuing its activities in spite of the formation of the spores within it. They are always clear and highly refractive from containing little water, and they do not so readily absorb staining material as the ordinary rods. They appear to be covered with a layer of some substance which resists the stain, and which also enables them to resist various external agencies. This protective covering, together with their small amount of water, enables them to resist almost any amount of drying, a high degree of heat, and many other adverse conditions. Commonly the spores break out of the rod, and the rod producing them dies, although sometimes the rod may continue its activity even after the spores have been produced.

Arthrogenous spores (?).--Certain species of bacteria do not produce spores as just described, but may give rise to bodies that are sometimes called arthrospores. These bodies are formed as short segments of rods. A long rod may sometimes break up into several short rounded elements, which are clear and appear to have a somewhat increased power of resisting adverse conditions. The same may happen among the spherical forms, which only in rare instances form endogenous spores. Among the spheres which form a chain of streptococci some may occasionally be slightly different from the rest. They are a little larger, and have been thought to have an increased resisting power like that of true spores (Fig. 13 b). It is quite doubtful, however, whether it is proper to regard these bodies as spores. There is no good evidence that they have any special resisting power to heat like endogenous spores, and bacteriologists in general are inclined to regard them simply as resting cells. The term arthrospores has been given to them to indicate that they are formed as joints or segments, and this term may be a convenient one to retain although the bodies in question are not true spores.

Still a different method of spore formation occurs in a few peculiar bacteria. In this case (Fig. 14) the protoplasm in the large thread breaks into many minute spherical bodies, which finally find exit. The spores thus formed may not be all alike, differences in size being noticed. This method of spore formation occurs only in a few special forms of bacteria.

The matter of spore formation serves as one of the points for distinguishing species. Some species do not form spores, at least under any of the conditions in which they have been studied. Others form them readily in almost any condition, and others again only under special conditions which are adverse to their life. The method of spore formation is always uniform for any single species. Whatever be the method of the formation of the spore, its purpose in the life of the bacterium is always the same. It serves as a means of keeping the species alive under conditions of adversity. Its power of resisting heat or drying enables it to live where the ordinary active forms would be speedily killed. Some of these spores are capable of resisting a heat of 180 degrees C. (360 degrees F.) for a short time, and boiling water they can resist for a long time. Such spores when subsequently placed under favourable conditions will germinate and start bacterial activity anew.


Some species of bacteria have the power of active motion, and may be seen darting rapidly to and fro in the liquid in which they are growing. This motion is produced by flagella which protrude from the body. These flagella (Fig. 15) arise from a membrane surrounding the bacterium, but have an intimate connection with the protoplasmic content. Their distribution is different in different species of bacteria. Some species have a single flagellum at one end (Fig. 15 a). Others have one at each end (Fig. 15 b). Others, again, have, at least just before dividing, a bunch at one or both ends (Fig. 15 c and d), while others, again, have many flagella distributed all over the body in dense profusion (Fig. 15 e). These flagella keep up a lashing to and fro in the liquid, and the lashing serves to propel the bacteria through the liquid.


It is hardly possible to say much about the structure of the bacteria beyond the description of their external forms. With all the variations in detail mentioned, they are extraordinarily simple, and about all that can be seen is their external shape. Of course, they have some internal structure, but we know very little in regard to it. Some microscopists have described certain appearances which they think indicate internal structure. Fig. 16 shows some of these appearances. The matter is as yet very obscure, however. The bacteria appear to have a membranous covering which sometimes is of a cellulose nature. Within it is protoplasm which shows various uncertain appearances. Some microscopists have thought they could find a nucleus, and have regarded bacteria as cells with inclosed nucleii (Figs. 10 a and 15 f). Others have regarded the whole bacterium as a nucleus without any protoplasm, while others, again, have concluded that the discerned internal structure is nothing except an appearance presented by the physical arrangement of the protoplasm. While we may believe that they have some internal structure, we must recognise that as yet microscopists have not been able to make it

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