Spontaneous generation refers to an obsolete 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. For instance, 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.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. The idea of univocal generation, by contrast, refers to effectively exclusive reproduction from genetically related parent(s), generally of the same species.
The doctrine of spontaneous generation was coherently synthesized by Aristotle, 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.
Spontaneous generation refers both to the supposed processes by which different types of life might repeatedly emerge from specific sources other than seeds, eggs, or parents, and also to theoretical principles presented in support of any such phenomena. Crucial to this doctrine are the ideas that life comes from non-life and that no causal agent, such as a parent, is needed. The hypothetical processes by which life routinely emerges from nonliving matter on a time scale of minutes, weeks, or years (e.g. in the supposed seasonal generation of mice and other animals from the mud of the Nile) are sometimes referred to as abiogenesis.
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