Confusion over fermentation: What did Louis Pasteur really say?

Champagne is a unique wine which undergoes a unique two fermentation process. So it is rather legitimate to throw some questions on fermentation in. My new book Die Champagner-Macher (in German) has two chapters devoted to this delicate topic, one deals with the bio-chemical meaning of fermentation, the other one is on the history of science, especially the role played by Louis Pasteur. This was necessary, because most of books on wine didn't get the role of Louis Pasteur in the history of science and his view on fermentation right.


Louis Pasteuer was the first who understood that fermentation is a process to the exclusion of oxygen: « Fermentation, c'est la conséquence de la vie sans air vie sans l'air." Indeed, that's the clou of today's definition of fermentation as an catabolic process that makes some amount of ATP - Adenosine triphosphate, the so called molecular unit of currency of our bodies energy - from glucose without an electron transport chain or, in other words, without oxygen.


But as the nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg in his autobiography For the Love of Enzymes. The Odyssey of a Biochemist said: "In the thirty-year war of words with his enemies in chemistry, Pasteur emerged the clear victor but on an intolerable cost. He allied himself with the philosophy of vitalism, which held that life processes are not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry, and accepted the word ‘life' as a substitutes for specific chemical information. The main casualty of this misconception was modern biochemistry, which was kept beyond reach for at least another thirty years."


Said Pasteur:

"In introducing yeast into a sugar solution we are sowing a multitude of minute living cells, representing innumerable centers of life, each capable of vegetating with extraordinary rapidity in a medium adapted to their nutrition.
The globules of yeast are true living cells, and may be considered to have as the physiological function correlative with their life the transformation of sugar, somewhat as the cells of the mammary glands transform the elements of the blood into the various constituents of milk in connection with their life functions.


My present and most fixed opinion regarding the nature of alcoholic fermentation is this: I believe that there is never any alcoholic fermentation without there being simultaneously the organization, development, and multiplication of the globules, or at least the pursued, continued life of globules, or at least the pursued, continued life of globules that are already present. The totality of the results in this article seems to me to be ion complete opposition to the opinions of Liebig and Wöhler."

Of course, and this is an interesting twist in the history of science, Liebig and Wöhler were not totally wrong. They considered fermentation as a pure chemical process, which was proved in 1897 by Eduard and Hans Buchner. With their famous experiment on cell free fermentation the two brothers opened the door to modern biochemistry. And since the original article by Eduard Buchner (Alkoholische Gärung ohne Hefezellen Vorläufige Mitteilung. In: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft. 30, 1897, S. 117-124) is of course not available in German for free (remember the ministers of Education and Research of Germany?), one can find here an English translation. Also recommendable is J.-B.S. Haldane's polemic against Louis Pasteur in his article The Origin of Life.

 

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