The Condensation of Formaldehyde Into Sugars

  • As has been mentioned, it is easily possible to cause either formaldehyde, or trioxymethylene, to condense into C6H12O6 , using milk of lime as a catalyst. Of course, no such condition as this prevails in the plant cell, and the mechanics of the protoplasmic process may be altogether different from those of the artificial syntheses. Furthermore, the hexose produced by the artificial condensation of these simpler compounds is, in every case, a non-optically active compound, while all natural sugars are optically active. Emil Fischer has succeeded, however, by a long and round-about process which need not be discussed in detail here, in converting the artificial hexose into glucose and fructose, the optically-active sugars which occur naturally in plant tissues. The condensation of formaldehyde directly into glucose and fructose in the plant cell is brought about by some process the nature of which is not yet understood. Probably synthetic enzymes, whose nature and action have not yet been discovered, come into play. It is a noteworthy fact, however, that the mechanics of this apparently simple chemical change, upon which the whole nutrition of the plant depends, and which furnishes the whole animal kingdom, including the human race, with so large a proportion of its food supplies, is as yet wholly unknown.