Little is known of the mode of action of bacteria on these plants, but it may be assumed with great confidence that they excrete enzymes and poisons (toxins), which diffuse into the cells and kill them, and that the effects are in principle the same as those of parasitic fungi. Support is found for this opinion in Beyerinck's discovery that the juices of tobacco plants affected with the disease known as "leaf mosaic," will induce this disease after filtration through porcelain.
In addition to such cases as the kephir and ginger-beer plants Symbiosis. (figs. 19, 20), where anaerobic bacteria are associated with yeasts, several interesting examples of symbiosis among bacteria are now known. Bacillus chauvaei ferments cane-sugar solutions in such a way that normal butyric arid, inactive lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen result; Micrococcus acidi-paralactici, on the other hand, ferments such solutions to optically active paralactic acid. Nencki showed, however, that if both these organisms occur together, the resulting products contain large quantities of normal butyl alcohol, a substance neither bacterium can produce alone. Other observers have brought forward other cases. Thus neither B. coli nor the B. denitrificans of Burri and Stutzer can reduce nitrates, but if acting together they so completely undo the structure of sodium nitrate that the nitrogen passes off in the free state. Van Senus showed that the concurrence of two bacteria is necessary before his B. amylobacter can ferment cellulose, and the case of mud bacteria which evolve sulphuretted hydrogen below which is utilized by sulphur bacteria above has already been quoted, as also that of Winogradsky's Clostridium pasteurianum, which is anaerobic, and can fix nitrogen only if protected from oxygen by aerobic species.
It is very probable that numerous symbiotic fermentations in the soil are due to this co-operation of oxygen-protecting species with anaerobic ones, e.g. Tetanus.
Fig. 21. - A plate-culture colony of a species of Bacillus - Proteus (Hauser) - on the fifth day. The flame-like processes and outliers are composed of writhing filaments, and the contours are continually changing while the colony moves as a whole. Slightly magnified. (H. M. W.)
Astonishment has been frequently expressed at the powerful Activity of bacteria. activities of bacteria - their rapid growth and dissemination, the extensive and profound decompositions and fermentations induced by them, the resistance of their spores to dessication, heat, etc. - but it is worth while to ask how far these properties are really remarkable when all the data for comparison with other organisms are considered. In the first place, the extremely small size and isolation of the vegetative cells place the protoplasmic contents in peculiarly favourable circumstances for action, and we may safely conclude that, weight for weight and molecule for molecule, the protoplasm of bacteria is brought into contact with the environment at far more points and over a far larger surface than is that of higher organisms, whether - as in plants - it is distributed in thin layers round the sap-vacuoles, or - as in animals - is bathed in fluids brought by special mechanisms to irrigate it. Not only so, the isolation of the cells facilitates the exchange of liquids and gases, the passage in of food materials and out of enzymes and products of metabolism, and thus each unit of protoplasm obtains opportunities of immediate action, the results of which are removed with equal rapidity, not attainable in more complex multi-cellular organisms.
To put the matter in another way, if we could imagine all the living cells of a large oak or of a horse, having given up the specializations of function impressed on them during evolution and simply carrying out the fundamental functions of nutrition, growth, and multiplication which mark the generalized activities of the bacterial cell, and at the same time rendered as accessible to the environment by isolation and consequent extension of surface, we should doubtless find them exerting changes in the fermentable fluids necessary to their life similar to those exerted by an equal mass of bacteria, and that in proportion to their approximation in size to the latter. Ciliary movements, which undoubtedly contribute in bringing the surface into contact with larger supplies of oxygen and other fluids in unity of time, are not so rapid or so extensive when compared with other standards than the apparent dimensions of the microscopic field. The microscope magnifies the distance traversed as well as the organism, and although a bacterium which covers 9-10 cm. or more in 15 minutes - say 0.1 mm. or 100 µ per second - appears to be darting across the field with great velocity, because its own small size - say 5 × 1 µ - comes into comparison, it should be borne in mind that if a mouse 2 in. long only, travelled twenty times its own length, i.e. 40 in., in a second, the distance traversed in 15 minutes at that rate, viz. 1000 yards, would not appear excessive.
In a similar way we must be careful, in our wonder at the marvellous rapidity of cell-division and growth of bacteria, that we do not exaggerate the significance of the phenomenon. It takes any ordinary rodlet 30-40 minutes to double its length and divide into two equal daughter cells when growth is at its best; nearer the minimum it may require 3-4 hours or even much longer. It is by no means certain that even the higher rate is greater than that exhibited by a tropical bamboo which will grow over a foot a day, or even common grasses, or asparagus, during the active period of cell-division, though the phenomenon is here complicated by the phase of extension due to intercalation of water. The enormous extension of surface also facilitates the absorption of energy from the environment, and, to take one case only, it is impossible to doubt that some source of radiant energy must be at the disposal of those prototrophic forms which decompose carbonates and assimilate carbonic acid in the dark and oxidize nitrogen in dry rocky regions where no organic materials are at their disposal, even could they utilize them.