Some interesting properties of protoplasm are revealed when slightly hypertonic solutions of sugars or of electrolytes are applied to Nitella.
The chloroplasts contract and the space between them increases and forms a characteristic pattern consisting of clear areas extending lengthwise along the cell and tapering off at both ends.
The development of these areas is irreversible from the start. If the cell is returned to water after plasmolysis begins these areas continue to enlarge in much the same fashion as when no change is made in the external solution. The cell soon dies whether returned to water or left in the plasmolyzing solution. Similar results are obtained with other sugars, with NaCl, CaCl2, and sea water.
Similar reactions are also brought about by strong ingoing or outgoing currents of water. This suggests that mechanical action may be chiefly responsible for the result and this idea is in harmony with other facts. It seems possible that the retraction of the protoplasm from the cellulose wall may disturb the delicate non-aqueous film which covers the outer surface of the protoplasm and thus produce injury. Such an effect might take place even without visible retraction if the injury occurred in protoplasmic projections extending into the cellulose wall.
A study of this behavior may throw light on the nature of the protoplasmic surface and on the properties of protoplasmic gels as well as on the process of death. An understanding of the mechanism involved may help to explain the action of hypertonic solutions in other cases as, for example, in the artificial parthenogenesis of marine eggs.