It is almost superfluous to state that [page 95] cubes of albumen of the same size as those above used, left for seven days in a little hydrochloric acid of the above strength, retained all their angles as perfect as ever.

Experiment 8.--Cubes of albumen (of 1/20 of an inch, or 2.54 mm.) were placed on five leaves, and minute drops of a solution of one part of carbonate of soda to 437 of water were added at intervals to three of them, and drops of carbonate of potash of the same strength to the other two. The drops were given on the head of a rather large pin, and I ascertained that each was equal to about 1/10 of a minim (.0059 ml.), so that each contained only 1/4800 of a grain (.0135 mg.) of the alkali. This was not sufficient, for after 46 hrs. all five cubes were dissolved.

Experiment 9.--The last experiment was repeated on four leaves, with this difference, that drops of the same solution of carbonate of soda were added rather oftener, as often as the secretion became acid, so that it was much more effectually neutralised. And now after 24 hrs. the angles of three of the cubes were not in the least rounded, those of the fourth being so in a very slight degree. Drops of extremely weak hydrochloric acid (viz. one part to 847 of water) were then added, just enough to neutralise the alkali which was still present; and now digestion immediately recommenced, so that after 23 hrs. 30 m. three of the cubes were completely dissolved, whilst the fourth was converted into a minute sphere, surrounded by transparent fluid; and this sphere next day disappeared.

Experiment 10.--Stronger solutions of carbonate of soda and of potash were next used, viz. one part to 109 of water; and as the same-sized drops were given as before, each drop contained 1/1200 of a grain (.0539 mg.) of either salt. Two cubes of albumen (each about 1/40 of an inch, or .635 mm.) were placed on the same leaf, and two on another. Each leaf received, as soon as the secretion became slightly acid (and this occurred four times within 24 hrs.), drops either of the soda or potash, and the acid was thus effectually neutralised. The experiment now succeeded perfectly, for after 22 hrs. the angles of the cubes were as sharp as they were at first, and we know from experiment 5 that such small cubes would have been completely rounded within this time by the secretion in its natural state. Some of the fluid was now removed with blotting-paper from the discs of the leaves, and minute drops of hydrochloric acid of the strength of the one part to 200 of water was added. Acid of this greater strength was used as the solutions of the alkalies were stronger. The [page 96] process of digestion now commenced, so that within 48 hrs. from the time when the acid was given the four cubes were not only completely dissolved, but much of the liquefied albumen was absorbed.

Experiment 11.--Two cubes of albumen (1/40 of an inch, or .635 mm.) were placed on two leaves, and were treated with alkalies as in the last experiment, and with the same result; for after 22 hrs. they had their angles perfectly sharp, showing that the digestive process had been completely arrested. I then wished to ascertain what would be the effect of using stronger hydrochloric acid; so I added minute drops of the strength of 1 per cent. This proved rather too strong, for after 48 hrs. from the time when the acid was added one cube was still almost perfect, and the other only very slightly rounded, and both were stained slightly pink. This latter fact shows that the leaves were injured,* for during the normal process of digestion the albumen is not thus coloured, and we can thus understand why the cubes were not dissolved.]

From these experiments we clearly see that the secretion has the power of dissolving albumen, and we further see that if an alkali is added, the process of digestion is stopped, but immediately recommences as soon as the alkali is neutralised by weak hydrochloric acid. Even if I had tried no other experiments than these, they would have almost sufficed to prove that the glands of Drosera secrete some ferment analogous to pepsin, which in presence of an acid gives to the secretion its power of dissolving albuminous compounds.

Insectivorous Plants Page 49

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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