As we have seen, the study of yeast has led investigators face to face with problems of immense interest in pure chemistry, and in animal and vegetable morphology. Its physiology is not less rich in subjects for inquiry. Take, for example, the singular fact that yeast will increase indefinitely when grown in the dark, in water containing only tartrate of ammonia, a small percentage of mineral salts, and sugar. Out of these materials the Torulae will manufacture nitrogenous protoplasm, cellulose, and fatty matters, in any quantity, although they are wholly deprived of those rays of the sun, the influence of which is essential to the growth of ordinary plants. There has been a great deal of speculation lately, as to how the living organisms buried beneath two or three thousand fathoms of water, and therefore in all probability almost deprived of light, live.
If any of them possess the same powers as yeast (and the same capacity for living without light is exhibited by some other fungi) there would seem to be no difficulty about the matter.
Of the pathological bearings of the study of yeast, and other such organisms, I have spoken elsewhere. It is certain that, in some animals, devastating epidemics are caused by fungi of low order—similar to those of which Torula is a sort of offshoot. It is certain that such diseases are propagated by contagion and infection, in just the same way as ordinary contagious and infectious diseases are propagated. Of course, it does not follow from this, that all contagious and infectious diseases are caused by organisms of as definite and independent a character as the Torula; but, I think, it does follow that it is prudent and wise to satisfy oneself in each particular case, that the “germ theory” cannot and will not explain the facts, before having recourse to hypotheses which have no equal support from analogy.
ON THE FORMATION OF COAL.
The lumps of coal in a coal-scuttle very often have a roughly cubical form. If one of them be picked out and examined with a little care, it will be found that its six sides are not exactly alike. Two opposite sides are comparatively smooth and shining, while the other four are much rougher, and are marked by lines which run parallel with the smooth sides. The coal readily splits along these lines, and the split surfaces thus formed are parallel with the smooth faces. In other words, there is a sort of rough and incomplete stratification in the lump of coal, as if it were a book, the leaves of which had stuck together very closely.
Sometimes the faces along which the coal splits are not smooth, but exhibit a thin layer of dull, charred-looking substance, which is known as “mineral charcoal.”
Occasionally one of the faces of a lump of coal will present impressions, which are obviously those of the stem, or leaves, of a plant; but though hard mineral masses of pyrites, and even fine mud, may occur here and there, neither sand nor pebbles are met with.