As shown in the second chapter, Bechamp was the first to prove that the moulds accompanying fermentation were, or contained, living organisms, and could not be spontaneously generated but must be an outgrowth of some living organism carried in the air.
This much was in his 1858 memoir, six years before Pasteur came to the same conclusions.
Being first to realize that these moulds or ferments were living organisms, he naturally was also the first to attempt to determine their true nature and functions, and their origins.
On putting some under the microscope, he noted a diversity in appearance of the moulds and was soon involved in a study of cell life.
In his earlier experiments, Bechamp had used several salts, including potassium carbonate, in the presence of which the inversion of cane sugar did not take place. But when he repeated this experiment using calcium carbonate (common chalk) instead of the potassium carbonate, he found that inversion of the cane sugar did take place, even when creosote was added. This observation was so unexpected that he omitted it from his earlier memoir in order to verify it before publication of the fact.
In carefully controlled experiments he found that when chemically pure calcium carbonate, CaCO3, was added to his sugar solutions, no inversion took place, but when ordinary chalk, even that chipped from the native rock without access of air, was used, inversion always occurred.
On heating the common chalk to 300 degrees, he found that it lost its powers of fermentation, and on examining more of the unheated common chalk under the microscope, he found it contained some "little bodies" similar to those found in prior observations, and which he found did not exist in the chemically pure CaCO3, nor in the chalk that had been heated.
These "little bodies" had the power of movement and were smaller than any of the microphytes seen in fermentation or moulds, but were more powerful ferments than any he had encountered previously.
Their power of movement and production of fermentation caused him to regard them as living organisms.
He advised Dumas of his discovery of living organisms in chalk in December 1864, and later, on September 26, 1865, he wrote a letter which Dumas had published. He stated:
"Chalk and milk contain already developed living beings, which is proved by the fact that creosote, employed in a non-coagulating dose, does not prevent milk from finally turning, nor chalk, without extraneous help, from converting both sugar and starch into alcohol and then into acetic acid, tartaric acid, and butyric acid,"
Which of course was ample proof that there was a ferment, a living organism, present in both milk and chalk.
He said of these:
"The naturalist will not be able to distinguish them by a description; but the chemist and also the physiologist will characterize them by their function.
Professor Bechamp found that the chalk seemed to be formed mostly of the mineral or fossil remains of a "microscopic world" and contained organisms of infinitesimal size, which he believed to be alive.
He also believed they might be of immense antiquity, as he had traced the block of limestone he had used to the Tertiary Period in geology; yet he found that stone cut from the solid ledge, with all air excluded, had "wonderful" fermentative powers, which he traced to the same "little bodies" as he had found to cause fermentation in his earlier experiments. He concluded that they must have lived embedded in the stone of the ledge for many thousands of years.
In 1866 he sent to the Academy of Science a memoir called On the role of chalk in butyric and lactic fermentations, and the living organism contained in it.
In this paper, he named his "little bodies" microzymas, from the Greek words meaning small ferment.
He also studied the relations of his microzymas of chalk to the molecular granulations of animal and vegetable cells, with many more geological examinations, and wrote a paper entitled On Geological Microzymas of Various Origins, which was abstracted in Comptes Rendus of the session of April 25, 1870.
He proved that the molecular granulation found in yeast and other animal and vegetable cells had individuality and life and also had the power to cause fermentation, and so he called them microzymas also.
He called his geological microzymas "morphologically identical" with the microzymas of living beings.
In innumerable laboratory experiments, assisted now by Professor A. Estor, another very able scientist, he found microzymas everywhere, in all organic matter, in both healthy tissues and in diseased, where he also found them associated with various kinds of bacteria.
After painstaking study they decided that the microzymas rather than the cell were the elementary units of life, and were in fact the builders of cell tissues. They also concluded that bacteria are an outgrowth or an evolutionary form of microzymas that occur when a quantity of diseased tissues must be broken up into its constituent elements.
In other words, all living organisms, he believed, from the one celled amoeba to mankind, were associations of these minute living entities, and their presence was necessary for cell life to grow and for cells to be repaired.
Bacteria, they proved, can develop from microzyma by passing through certain intermediate stages, which they described, and which have been regarded by other researchers as different species!
The germs of the air, they decided, were merely microzymas, or bacteria set free when their former habitat was broken up, and they concluded that the "little bodies" in the limestone and chalk were the survivors of living beings of long past ages.
This brought them to the beginning of 1868, and to test these ideas they obtained the body of a kitten25 which they buried in pure carbonate of lime, specially prepared and creosoted to exclude any airborne or outside germs.
They placed it in a glass jar and covered the open top with several sheets of paper, placed so as to allow renewal of the air without allowing dust or organisms to enter. This was left on a shelf in Bechamp's laboratory until the end of 1874.
When opened, it was found that the kitten's body had been entirely consumed except for some small fragments of bone and dry matter. There was no smell, and the carbonate of lime was not discoloured.
Under the microscope, microzymas were not seen in the upper part of the carbonate of lime, but "swarmed by thousands" in the part that had been below the kitten's body.
As Bechamp thought that there might have been airborne germs in the kitten's fur, lungs or intestines, he repeated this experiment, using the whole carcass of a kitten in one case, the liver only in another, and the heart, lungs and kidneys in a third test. These viscera were plunged into carbolic acid the moment they had been detached from the slaughtered animal. This experiment began in June 1875 and continued to August 1882 - over seven years.
It completely satisfied him that his idea that microzymas were the living remains of plant and animal life of which, in either a recent or distant past, they had been the constructive cellular elements, and that they were in fact the primary anatomical elements of all living beings, was correct.
He proved that on the death of an organ its cells disappear, but the microzymas remain, imperishable!
As the geologists estimated that the chalk rocks or ledges from which he took his "geological microzymas" were 11 million years old, it was proof positive that these microzymas could live in a dormant state for practically unlimited lengths of time.
When he again found bacteria in the remains of the second experiment, as he had in the first, he concluded that he had proved, because of the care taken to exclude airborne organisms, that bacteria can and do develop from microzymas, and are in fact a scavenging form of the microzymas, developed when death, decay, or disease cause an extraordinary amount of cell life either to need repair or be broken up.
He wrote in 1869:
In typhoid fever, gangrene and anthrax, the existence has been found of bacteria in the tissues and blood, and one was very much disposed to take them for granted as cases of ordinary parasitism. It is evident, after what we have said, that instead of maintaining that the affection has had as its origin and cause the introduction into the organism of foreign germs with their consequent action, one should affirm that one only has to deal with an alteration of the function of microzymas, an alteration indicated by the change that has taken place in their form."
This view coincides well with the modern view of all germs found in nature, except those in the body, which are still looked on as causing the conditions they are found with, rather than being the result of these conditions, which is their true relation to them.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says in the entry on bacteriology:
"The common idea of bacteria in the minds of most people is that of a hidden and sinister scourge lying in wait for mankind. This popular conception is born of the fact that attention was first focused upon bacteria through the discovery, some 70 years ago, of the relationship of bacteria to disease in man, and that in its infancy the study of bacteriology was a branch of medical science. Relatively few people assign to bacteria the important position in the world of living things that they rightly occupy, for it is only a few of the bacteria known today that have developed in such a way that they can live in the human body, and for every one of this kind, there are scores of others which are perfectly harmless and far from being regarded as the enemies of mankind, must be numbered among his best friends.
It is in fact no exaggeration to say that upon the activities of bacteria the very existence of man depends; indeed, without bacteria there could be no other living thing in the world; for every animal and plant owes its existence to the fertility of the soil and this in turn depends upon the activity of the micro-organisms which inhabit the soil in almost inconceivable numbers. It is one of the main objects of this article to show how true is this statement; there will be found in it only passing reference to the organisms which produces disease in man and animals; for information on these see Pathology and Immunity."
The writer of the above thoroughly understands germs or bacteria with only one exception; the bacteria found in man and animals do not cause disease. They have the same function as those found in the soil, or in sewage, or elsewhere in nature; they are there to rebuild dead or diseased tissues, or rework body wastes, and it is well known that they will not or cannot attack healthy tissues. They are as important and necessary to human life as those found elsewhere in nature, and are in reality just as harmless if we live correctly, as Bechamp so clearly showed.