Schizomycetes are ubiquitous as saprophytes in still ponds and Distribution in Space. ditches, in running streams and rivers, and in the sea, and especially in drains, bogs, refuse heaps, and in the soil, and wherever organic infusions are allowed to stand for a short time. Any liquid (blood, urine, milk, beer, etc.) containing organic matter, or any solid food-stuff (meat preserves, vegetables, etc.), allowed to stand exposed to the air soon swarms with bacteria, if moisture is present and the temperature not abnormal. Though they occur all the world over in the space, air and on the surface of exposed bodies, it is not to be supposed that they are by any means equally distributed, and it is questionable whether the bacteria suspended in the air ever exist in such enormous quantities as was once believed. The evidence to hand shows that on heights and in open country, especially in the north, there may be few or even no Schizomycetes detected in the air, and even in towns their distribution varies greatly; sometimes they appear to exist in minute clouds, as it were, with interspaces devoid of any, but in laboratories and closed spaces where their cultivation has been promoted the air may be considerably laden with them.
Of course the distribution of bodies so light and small is easily influenced by movements, rain, wind, changes of temperature, etc. As parasites, certain Schizomycetes inhabit and prey upon the organs of man and animals in varying degrees, and the conditions for their growth and distribution are then very complex. Plants appear to be less subject to their attacks - possibly, as has been suggested, because the acid fluids of the higher vegetable organisms are less suited for the development of Schizomycetes; nevertheless some are known to be parasitic on plants. Schizomycetes exist in every part of the alimentary canal of animals, except, perhaps, where acid secretions prevail; these are by no means necessarily harmful, though, by destroying the teeth for instance, certain forms may incidentally be the forerunners of damage which they do not directly cause.
Little was known about these extremely minute organisms History. before 1860. A. van Leeuwenhoek figured bacteria as far back as the 17th century, and O. F. Müller knew several important forms in 1773, while Ehrenberg in 1830 had advanced to the commencement of a scientific separation and grouping of them, and in 1838 had proposed at least sixteen species, distributing them into four genera. Our modern more accurate though still fragmentary knowledge of the forms of Schizomycetes, however, dates from F. J. Conn's brilliant researches, the chief results of which were published at various periods between 1853 and 1872; Cohn's classification of the bacteria, published in 1872 and extended in 1875, has in fact dominated the study of these organisms almost ever since. He proceeded in the main on the assumption that the forms of bacteria as met with and described by him are practically constant, at any rate within limits which are not wide: observing that a minute spherical micrococcus or a rod-like bacillus regularly produced similar micrococci and bacilli respectively, he based his classification on what may be considered the constancy of forms which he called species and genera.
As to the constancy of form, however, Cohn maintained certain reservations which have been ignored by some of his followers. The fact that Schizomycetes produce spores appeals to have been discovered by Cohn in 1857, though it was expressed dubiously in 1872; these spores had no doubt been observed previously. In 1876, however, Cohn had seen the spores germinate, and Koch, Brefeld, Pratzmowski, van Tieghem, de Bary and others confirmed the discovery in various species.
The supposed constancy of forms in Cohn's species and genera received a shock when Lankester in 1873 pointed out that his Bacterium rubescens (since named Beggiatoa roseo-persicina, Zopf) passes through conditions which would have been described by most observers influenced by the current doctrine as so many separate "species" or even "genera," - that in fact forms known as Bacterium, Micrococcus, Bacillus, Leptothrix, etc., occur as phases in one life-history. Lister put forth similar ideas about the same time; and Billroth came forward in 1874 with the extravagant view that the various bacteria are only different states of one and the same organism which he called Cocco-bacteria septica. From that time the question of the pleomorphism (mutability of shape) of the bacteria has been hotly discussed: but it is now generally agreed that, while a certain number of forms may show different types of cell during the various phases of the life-history, yet the majority of forms are uniform, showing one type of cell throughout their life-history. The question of species in the bacteria is essentially the same as in other groups of plants; before a form can be placed in a satisfactory classificatory position its whole life-history must be studied, so that all the phases may be known.
In the meantime, while various observers were building up our knowledge of the morphology of bacteria, others were laying the foundation of what is known of the relations of these organisms to fermentation and disease - that ancient will-o'-the-wisp "spontaneous generation" being revived by the way. When Pasteur in 1857 showed that the lactic fermentation depends on the presence of an organism, it was already known from the researches of Schwann (1837) and Helmholtz (1843) that fermentation and putrefaction are intimately connected with the presence of organisms derived from the air, and that the preservation of putrescible substances depends on this principle. In 1862 Pasteur placed it beyond reasonable doubt that the ammoniacal fermentation of urea is due to the action of a minute Schizomycete; in 1864 this was confirmed by van Tieghem, and in 1874 by Cohn, who named the organism Micrococcus ureae. Pasteur and Cohn also pointed out that putrefaction is but a special case of fermentation, and before 1872 the doctrines of Pasteur were established with respect to Schizomycetes. Meanwhile two branches of inquiry had arisen, so to speak, from the above.