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The first serious attack on the idea of spontaneous generation was made in 1668 by Francesco Redi, an Italian physician and poet. At that time, it was thought that maggots arose spontaneously in rotting meat. Redi believed that maggots developed from eggs laid by flies after observing that they had different developmental stages.. To test his hypothesis, he set out meat in a variety of flasks, some open to the air, some sealed completely, and others covered with gauze. As he had expected, maggots appeared only in the open flasks in which the flies could reach the meat and lay their eggs.
This was one of the first examples of an experiment in which controls are used. In spite of his well-executed experiment, the belief in spontaneous generation remained strong, and even Redi continued to believe it occurred under some circumstances. The invention of the microscope encouraged this silly belief. Microscopes revealed a whole new world of organisms that appeared to arise spontaneously. It was quickly learned that to create "animalcules," as the organisms were called, you needed only to place hay in water and wait a few days before examining your new creations under the microscope.
The debate over spontaneous generation continued for centuries. In 1745, John Needham, an English clergyman, proposed what he considered the definitive experiment. Everyone knew that boiling killed microorganisms, so he proposed to test whether or not microorganisms appeared spontaneously after boiling. He boiled chicken broth, put it into a flask, sealed it, and waited - sure enough, microorganisms grew. Needham claimed victory for spontaneous generation.
An Italian priest, Lazzaro Spallanzani, was not convinced, and he suggested that perhaps the microorganisms had entered the broth from the air after the broth was boiled, but before it was sealed.
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