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- The Story Of Germ Life - 6/26 -

thoroughly decompose the soft tissues. After a short putrefaction of this sort the softened organic matter can be easily washed out of the skeleton and leave the clean fibre ready for market.

Leather preparation.--The tanning of leather is a purely chemical process, and in some processes the whole operation of preparing the leather is a chemical one. In others, however, especially in America, bacteria are brought into action at one stage. The dried hide which comes to the tannery must first have the hair removed together with the outer skin. The hide for this purpose must be moistened and softened. In some tanneries this is done by steeping it in chemicals. In others, however, it is put into water and slightly heated until fermentation arises. The fermentation softens it so that the outer skin can be easily removed with a knife, and the removal of hair is accomplished at the same time. Bacterial putrefaction in the tannery is thus an assistance in preparing the skin for the tanning proper. Even in the subsequent tanning a bacterial fermentation appears to play a part, but little is yet known in regard to it.

Maceration of skeletons.--The making of skeletons for museums and anatomical instruction in general is no very great industry, and yet it is one of importance. In the making of skeletons the process of maceration is commonly used as an aid. The maceration consists simply in allowing the skeleton to soak in water for a day or two after cleaning away the bulk of the muscles. The putrefaction that arises softens the connective tissues so much that the bones may be readily cleaned of flesh.

Citric acid.--Bacterial fermentation is employed also in the ordinary preparation of citric acid. The acid is made chiefly from the juice of the lemon. The juice is pressed from the fruit and then allowed to ferment. The fermentation aids in separating a mucilaginous mass and making it thus possible to obtain the citric acid in a purer condition. The action is probably similar to the maceration processes described above, although it has not as yet been studied by bacteriologists.


While bacteria thus play a part in our industries simply from their power of producing decomposition, it is primarily because of the products of their action that they are of value. Wherever bacteria seize hold of organic matter and feed upon it, there are certain to be developed new chemical compounds, resulting largely from decomposition, but partly also from constructive processes. These new compounds are of great variety. Different species of bacteria do not by any means produce the same compounds even when growing in and decomposing the same food material. Moreover, the same species of bacteria may give rise to different products when growing in different food materials. Some of the compounds produced by such processes are poisonous, others are harmless. Some are gaseous, others are liquids. Some have peculiar odours, as may be recognised from the smell arising from a bit of decaying meat. Others have peculiar tastes, as may be realized in the gamy taste of meat which is in the incipient stages of putrefaction. By purely empirical means mankind has learned methods of encouraging the development of some of these products, and is to-day making practical use of this power, possessed by bacteria, of furnishing desired chemical compounds. Industries involving the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars are founded upon the products of bacterial life, and they have a far more important relation to our everyday life than is commonly imagined. In many cases the artisan who is dependent upon this action of microscopic life is unaware of the fact. His processes are those which experience has taught produce desired results, but, nevertheless, his dependence upon bacteria is none the less fundamental.


We may notice, first, several miscellaneous instances of the application of bacteria to various fermentative industries where their aid is of more or less value to man. In some of the examples to be mentioned the influence of bacteria is profound and fundamental, while in others it is only incidental. The fermentative industries of civilization are gigantic in extent, and have come to be an important factor in modern civilized life. The large part of the fermentation is based upon the growth of a class of microscopic plants which we call yeasts. Bacteria and yeasts are both microscopic plants, and perhaps somewhat closely related to each other. The botanist finds a difference between them, based upon their method of multiplication, and therefore places them in different classes (Fig. 2, page 19). In their general power of producing chemical changes in their food products, yeasts agree closely with bacteria, though the kinds of chemical changes are different. The whole of the great fermentative industries, in which are invested hundreds of millions of dollars, is based upon chemical decompositions produced by microscopic plants. In the great part of commercial fermentations alcohol is the product desired, and alcohol, though it is sometimes produced by bacteria, is in commercial quantities produced only by yeasts. Hence it is that, although the fermentations produced by bacteria are more common in Nature than those produced by yeasts and give rise to a much larger number of decomposition products, still their commercial aspect is decidedly less important than that of yeasts. Nevertheless, bacteria are not without their importance in the ordinary fermentative processes. Although they are of no importance as aids in the common fermentative processes, they are not infrequently the cause of much trouble. In the fermentation of malt to produce beer, or grape juice to produce wine, it is the desire of the brewer and vintner to have this fermentation produced by pure yeasts, unmixed with bacteria. If the yeast is pure the fermentation is uniform and successful. But the brewer and vintner have long known that the fermentation is frequently interfered with by irregularities. The troubles which arise have long been known, but the bacteriologist has finally discovered their cause, and in general their remedy. The cause of the chief troubles which arise in the fermentation is the presence of contaminating bacteria among the yeasts. These bacteria have been more or less carefully studied by bacteriologists, and their effect upon the beer or wine determined. Some of them produce acid and render the products sour; others make them bitter; others, again, produce a slimy material which makes the wine or beer "ropy." Something like a score of bacteria species have been found liable to occur in the fermenting material and destroy the value of the product of both the wine maker and the beer brewer. The species of bacteria which infect and injure wine are different from those which infect and injure beer. They are ever present as possibilities in the great alcoholic fermentations. They are dangers which must be guarded against. In former years the troubles from these sources were much greater than they are at present. Since it has been demonstrated that the different imperfections in the fermentative process are due to bacterial impurities, commonly in the yeasts which are used to produce the fermentation, methods of avoiding them are readily devised. To-day the vintner has ready command of processes for avoiding the troubles which arise from bacteria, and the brewer is always provided with a microscope to show him the presence or absence of the contaminating bacteria. While, then, the alcoholic fermentations are not dependent upon bacteria, the proper management of these fermentations requires a knowledge of their habits and characters.

There are certain other fermentative processes of more or less importance in their commercial aspects, which are directly dependent upon bacterial action, Some of them we should unhesitatingly look upon as fermentations, while others would hardly be thought of as belonging to the fermentation industries.


The commercial importance of the manufacture of vinegar, though large, does not, of course, compare in extent with that of the alcoholic fermentations. Vinegar is a weak solution of acetic acid, together with various other ingredients which have come from the materials furnishing the acid. In the manufacture of vinegar, alcohol is always used as the source of the acetic acid. The production of acetic acid from alcohol is a simple oxidation. The equation C2H6O + O2 = C2H4O2 + H2O shows the chemical change that occurs. This oxidation can be brought about by purely chemical means. While alcohol will not readily unite with oxygen under common conditions, if the alcohol is allowed to pass over a bit of platinum sponge the union readily occurs and acetic acid results. This method of acetic-acid production is possible experimentally, but is impracticable on any large scale. In the ordinary manufacture of vinegar the oxidation is a true fermentation, and brought about by the growth of bacteria.

In the commercial manufacture of vinegar several different weak alcoholic solutions are used. The most common of these are fermented malt, weak wine, cider, and sometimes a weak solution of spirit to which is added sugar and malt. If these solutions are allowed to stand for a time in contact with air, they slowly turn sour by the gradual conversion of the alcohol into acetic acid. At the close of the process practically all of the alcohol has disappeared. Ordinarily, however, not all of it has been converted into acetic acid, for the oxidation does not all stop at this step. As the oxidation goes on, some of the acid is oxidized into carbonic dioxide, which is, of course, dissipated at once into the air, and if the process is allowed to continue unchecked for a long enough period much of the acetic acid will be lost in this way.

The oxidation of the alcohol in all commercial production of vinegar is brought about by the growth of bacteria in the liquid. When the vinegar production is going on properly, there is formed on the top of the liquid a dense felted mass known as the "mother of vinegar." This mass proves to be made of bacteria which have the power of absorbing oxygen from the air, or, at all events, of causing the alcohol to unite with oxygen. It was at first thought that a single species of bacterium was thus the cause of the oxidation of alcohol, and this was named Mycoderma aceti. But further study has shown that several have the power, and that even in the commercial manufacture of vinegar several species play a part (Fig. 18), although the different species are not yet very thoroughly studied. Each appears to act best under different conditions. Some of them act slowly, and others rapidly, the slow- growing species appearing to produce the larger amount of acid in the end. After the amount of acetic acid reaches a certain percentage, the bacteria are unable to produce more, even though there be alcohol still left unoxidized. A percentage as high as fourteen per cent, commonly destroys all their power of growth. The production of the acid is wholly dependent upon the growth of the bacteria, and the secret of the successful vinegar manufacture is the skilful manipulation of these bacteria so as to keep them in the purest condition and to give them the best opportunity for growth.

One method of vinegar manufacture which is quite rapid is carried on in a slightly different manner. A tall cylindrical chamber is

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