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JAMA 100 Years Ago
July 11, 2001


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Assistant Editor

JAMA. 2001;286(2):140. doi:10.1001/jama.286.2.140

In the issue of Science, June 15, the late Dr. Joseph Le Conte notices the fact that seeds exposed to intense cold (–180 to –250 F.) do not lose their power of germinating, and suggests that as chemical action is arrested at such temperature, life may be a form of energy akin to chemism. He, therefore, attributes life to a particular molecular arrangement, the extreme cold acting by temporarily changing this molecular constitution. This may do for a hypothesis, but it will require some at present apparently impossible research for its verification. His admission that life is a form of energy seems hardly warrantable with our present knowledge; it certainly does not come under any law of the correlation of forces; it is not convertible into any other form of energy. Le Conte says: "The essential nature of life, as of all energy, is activity; but there is a necessary underlying condition, i.e., a peculiar molecular constitution, which may be called potential life." It seems much more natural and reasonable to recognize in vitality a still more ultimate agency than chemism, which seems itself to act under the guidance of this vital principle, as it may more properly be designated, rather than a force or form of energy, and to admit its as yet mysterious and unexplainable nature. To claim that, because chemism also survives extreme exposure to cold, life must itself be an analogous force, appears to us a begging of the question. The possibilities of the vitalized cell do not appear to us explicable by any known law of physics or chemistry as yet discovered.