Viruses, Bacteria, Protists, and Fungi

How did the discovery of bacteria impact the theory of spontaneous generation?

The theory of spontaneous generation proposes that life can arise spontaneously from nonliving matter. One of the first scientists to challenge the theory of spontaneous generation was the Italian physician Francesco Redi (1626–1698). Redi performed an experiment to show that meat placed in covered containers (either glass-covered or gauze-covered) remained free of maggots, while meat left in an uncovered container eventually became infested with maggots from flies laying their eggs on the meat. After the discovery of microorganisms by Anton von Leeuwenhoek, the controversy surrounding spontaneous generation was renewed, as it had been assumed that food became spoiled by organisms arising spontaneously within food. In 1776 Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729–1799) showed that no growth occurred in flasks that were boiled after sealing. The controversy over the theory of spontaneous generation was finally resolved in 1861 by Louis Pasteur (1822–1895). He showed that the microorganisms found in spoiled food were similar to those found in the air. He concluded that the microorganisms that caused food to spoil were from the air and did not spontaneously arise.


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