The Physiological Theory Of Fermentation

From The Law Revisited

The Physiological Theory Of Fermentation by Louis Pasteur

In the preceding experiment, conducted without the presence of air, there is one circumstance particularly worthy of notice. This experiment succeeds, that is to say, the yeast sown in the medium deprived of oxygen develops, only when this yeast is in a state of great vigour. We have already explained the meaning of this last expression. But we wish now to call attention to a very evident fact in connection with this point. We impregnate a fermentable liquid; yeast develops and fermentation appears. This lasts for several days and then ceases. Let us suppose that, from the day when fermentation first appears in the production of a minute froth, which gradually increases until it whitens the surface of the liquid, we take, every twenty-four hours, or at longer intervals, a trace of the yeast deposited on the bottom of the vessel and use it for starting fresh fermentations. Conducting these fermentations all under precisely the same conditions of temperature, character and volume of liquid, let us continue this for a prolonged time, even after the original fermentation is finished. We shall have no difficulty in seeing that the first signs of action in each of our series of second fermentations appear always later and later in proportion to the length of time that has elapsed from the commencement of the original fermentation. In other words, the time necessary for the development of the germs and the production of that amount of yeast sufficient to cause the first appearance of fermentation varies with the state of the impregnating cells, and is longer in proportion as the cells are further removed from the period of their formation. It is essential, in experiments of this kind, that the quantities of yeast successively taken should be as nearly as possible equal in weight or volume, since, ceteris paribus, fermentations manifest themselves more quickly the larger the quantity of yeast employed in impregnation.

If we compare under the microscope the appearance and character of the successive quantities of yeast taken, we shall see plainly that the structure of the cells undergoes a progressive change. The first sample which we take, quite at the beginning of the original fermentation, generally gives us cells rather larger than those later on, and possessing a remarkable tenderness. Their walls are exceedingly thin, the consistency and softness of their protoplasm is akin to fluidity, and their granular contents appear in the form of scarcely visible spots. The borders of the cells soon become more marked, a proof that their walls undergo a thickening; their protoplasm also becomes denser, and the granulations more distinct. Cells of the same organ, in the states of infancy and old age, should not differ more than the cells of which we are speaking, taken in their extreme states. The progressive changes in the cells, after they have acquired their normal form and volume, clearly demonstrate the existence of a chemical work of a remarkable intensity, during which their weight increases, although in volume they undergo no sensible change, a fact that we have often characterized as “the continued life of cells already formed.” We may call this work a process of maturation on the part of the cells, almost the same that we see going on in the case of adult beings in general, which continue to live for a long time, even after they have become incapable of reproduction, and long after their volume has become permanently fixed.

This being so, it is evident, we repeat, that, to multiply in a fermentable medium, quite out of contact with oxygen, the cells of yeast must be extremely young, full of life and health, and still under the influence of the vital activity which they owe to the free oxygen which has served to form them, and which they have perhaps stored up for a time. When older, they reproduce themselves with much difficulty when deprived of air, and gradually become more languid; and if they do multiply, it is in strange and monstrous forms. A little older still, they remain absolutely inert in a medium deprived of free oxygen. This is not because they are dead; for in general they may be revived in a marvellous manner in the same liquid if it has been first aerated before they are sown. It would not surprise us to learn that at this point certain preconceived ideas suggest themselves to the mind of an attentive reader on the subject of the causes that may serve to account for such strange phenomena in the life of these beings which our ignorance hides under the expressions of youth and age; this, however, is a subject which we cannot pause to consider here.

At this point we must observe—for it is a matter of great importance—that in the operations of the brewer there is always a time when the yeasts are in this state of vigorous youth of which we have been speaking, acquired under the influence of free oxygen, since all the worts and the yeasts of commerce are necessarily manipulated in contact with air, and so impregnated more or less with oxygen. The yeast immediately seizes upon this gas and acquires a state of freshness and activity, which permits it to live afterwards out of contact with air, and to act as a ferment. Thus, in ordinary brewery practice, we find the yeast already formed in abundance even before the earliest external signs of fermentation have made their appearance. In this first phase of its existence, yeast lives chiefly like an ordinary fungus.

From the same circumstances it is clear that the brewer’s fermentations may, speaking quite strictly, last for an indefinite time, in consequence of the unceasing supply of fresh wort, and from the fact, moreover, that the exterior air is constantly being introduced during the work, and that the air contained in the fresh worts keeps up the vital activity of the yeast, as the act of breathing keeps up the vigour and life of cells in all living beings. If the air could not renew itself in any way, the vital activity which the cells originally received, under its influence, would become more and more exhausted, and the fermentation eventually come to an end.

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