Spontaneous generation

Spontaneous generation is a body of thought on the ordinary formation of living organisms without descent from similar organisms. The theory of spontaneous generation held that living creatures could arise from nonliving matter and that such processes were commonplace and regular. It was hypothesized that certain forms, such as fleas, could arise from inanimate matter such as dust, or that maggots could arise from dead flesh.[1] A variant idea was that of equivocal generation, in which species such as tapeworms arose from unrelated living organisms, now understood to be their hosts.[2] The idea of univocal generation, by contrast, refers to effectively exclusive reproduction from genetically related parent(s), generally of the same species.[3]

The doctrine of spontaneous generation was coherently synthesized by Aristotle,[4] who compiled and expanded the work of earlier natural philosophers and the various ancient explanations for the appearance of organisms, and was taken as scientific fact for two millennia. Though challenged in the 17th and 18th centuries by the experiments of Francesco Redi and Lazzaro Spallanzani, spontaneous generation was not disproved until the work of Louis Pasteur and John Tyndall in the mid-19th century.[5]

Pasteur invented the swan-necked flask to create an environment known not to grow microorganisms. After sterilizing a nutrient broth in these flasks, he removed the swan necks of the controls. Microorganisms grew only in the controls, refuting spontaneous generation.[1]

Rejection of spontaneous generation is no longer controversial among biologists. By the middle of the 19th century, experiments by Louis Pasteur and others refuted the traditional theory of spontaneous generation and supported biogenesis.[6][7][8]