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On Fermentation.

Nature volume 14, pages 4447 | Download Citation



THE work on fermentation is one of the International Scientific Series, Starting with a thoroughly philosophical conception of his subject, the author points out that from our present stand-point of knowledge, all those phenomena classed together under the name fermentation, are but special cases of the chemical phenomena of life. To life, however, we are not to attribute any extra-material force or influence. Though the force that can reduce the complex chemical edifice called sugar in a certain determinate direction, is manifested only in the living cell of the ferment, yet this “is a force as material as all those we are accustomed to utilize.” “In other words, there is really no chemical vital force. If living cells produce reactions which seem peculiar to themselves, it is because they realise conditions of molecular mechanism which we have not hitherto succeeded in tracing, but which we shall, without doubt, be able to discover at some future time.” In the book will be found a clear and concise statement of our present knowledge of fermentation, and a brief history of the progress of opinion and research. The outstanding questions (and there are many) and diverse opinions are presented with scientific impartiality, as is also contradictory evidence. It is gratifying to observe how such rival theories as those of Liebig and Pasteur on the nature of fermentation can be swallowed up in a larger conception, and one at least of the combatants conclude that both may be right. “Fermentation,” says Liebig, “is a movement communicated by instable bodies in process of chemical transformation.” “I maintain,” says M. Pasteur, “that the chemical act of fermentation is essentially a phenomenon correlative to a vital act.” “So be it,” replies Liebig, “‘a vital act’ is a phenomenon of motion; your special views fall within my theory.” Necessarily large space in this work is given to the extensive and splendid researches of M. Pasteur, whose views the author follows in the main, though not at all times able to find them quite self-consistent or consistent with admitted facts. On the great question of most general interest—What is the origin of ferments? he adopts the conclusions of M. Pasteur.

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