Spontaneous generation

Spontaneous generation is a superseded scientific theory that held that living creatures could arise from nonliving matter and that such processes were commonplace and regular.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. The doctrine of spontaneous generation was coherently synthesized by the Greek philosopher and naturalist Aristotle, who compiled and expanded the work of earlier natural philosophers and the various ancient explanations for the appearance of organisms. Spontaneous generation was taken as scientific fact for two millennia. Though challenged in the 17th and 18th centuries by the experiments of the Italian biologists Francesco Redi and Lazzaro Spallanzani, it was not discredited until the work of the French chemist Louis Pasteur and the Irish physicist John Tyndall in the mid-19th century.

Spontaneous generation of seashells, according to Aristotle, varied with the nature of the seabed. Slime gave rise to oysters; sand, to scallops; and the hollows of rocks, to limpets and barnacles. People kept on wondering, though, whether the eggs of these animals might not be central to the generation process.[1]

Rejection of spontaneous generation is no longer controversial among biologists. By the middle of the 19th century, experiments by Pasteur and others were considered to have disproven the traditional theory of spontaneous generation. Attention has turned instead to the origin of life, since all life seems to have evolved from a single form around four billion years ago.

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