Can Carbon Dioxide be “Vitalised”?


THERE has long been present in my mind an idea to which I have hitherto hardly dared give expression. The query forming the above heading amounts to the raising of the question whether the carbon dioxide which is exhaled as a product of animal or vegetable vital processes differs in any way from the carbon dioxide of “inorganic” origin formed, let us say, from carbon by combustion in oxygen. The answer will probably be in the negative, since, on theoretical (stereochemical) grounds an asymmetric structure is not possible in the case of this molecule. Nevertheless, it might be worth while to cross-examine nature on this point. It is, in fact, possible that the experiment may have been already tried with negative results, and that is why I venture into print, since I have been unable to find any record. Two ways occur to me for submitting the question to the test of experiment. Calling the carbon dioxide from the two sources “inorganic” and “organic” respectively for the sake of brevity, the “organic” gas might be obtained either from the brewer's vat or from a carbonate formed from the carbon dioxide of animal respiration. The rate of absorption of this gas might be carefully compared with the rate of absorption of a specimen of “inorganic” gas by a growing plant. This is a method which appeals to vegetable physiologists. The other method, which is more purely chemical, depends upon our being able to obtain some optically active compound sufficiently basic to absorb carbon dioxide. I cannot call to mind any such compound at the present moment, and from where I am writing I have no access to the usual sources of information. Given, however, an optically active base capable of forming a carbonate, would the gases from the two sources be absorbed at equal rates? Perhaps some of your readers may be able to dispose of these queries offhand.

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MELDOLA, R. Can Carbon Dioxide be “Vitalised”?. Nature 66, 492 (1902).

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