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Chapter 6 : Spontaneous Generation

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Abstract:

This chapter talks about Pasteur's work on spontaneous generation. Among the many other types of experiments that Pasteur designed to rule out spontaneous generation, one is worth some emphasis by virtue of its very simplicity and decisiveness and because it finally silenced his opponents and settled the issue—at least for the time being. Nevertheless, for years studies of spontaneous generation were carried out in an atmosphere of intense excitement and of passionate controversy because it was erroneously thought by some of the participants that the problem involved religious issues—a view which Pasteur denied strenuously. The doctrine of spontaneous generation has not recovered yet; it may never. But what is certain is that none of the present developments conflicts in any way with the conclusions of Pasteur’s work on spontaneous generation. In addition to settling the controversy on spontaneous generation, Pasteur’s efforts served to establish the new science of bacteriology on a solid technical basis. Pasteur derived from his studies of spontaneous generation the germ theory of disease and many of the laws of how diseases spread. The controversy on spontaneous generation was the exacting school at which bacteriology became aware of its problems and learned its methodology.

Citation: Dubos R. 1998. Spontaneous Generation, p 41-51. In Pasteur and Modern Science. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818265.ch6

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Figures

Image of Figure 1
Figure 1

Pasteur's own drawings of the swan-necked flasks he used in his experiments on spontaneous generation, (a) Various shapes of flasks, (b) Flask with neck removed, exposing the liquid to contamination from the air.

Citation: Dubos R. 1998. Spontaneous Generation, p 41-51. In Pasteur and Modern Science. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818265.ch6
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Image of Figure 2
Figure 2

Pasteur's experiment with the swan-necked flask, (a) If the flask remains upright, no microbial growth occurs, (b) If microorganisms trapped in the neck reach the sterile liquid, they grow rapidly. These experiments show that microbial growth occurs only if preexisting organisms reach the liquid.

Citation: Dubos R. 1998. Spontaneous Generation, p 41-51. In Pasteur and Modern Science. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818265.ch6
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Image of Figure 3
Figure 3

One of the crucial studies that Pasteur made showed that microorganisms were present in ordinary air. (a) Pasteur's method for studying the microbial content of air. The tube T, in the outside air, passes through a hole in the window of the laboratory (F-F) to a filter (A-B) containing guncotton. The apparatus R is connected to a vacuum source. A known volume of air is pulled through the filter. After the gun cotton is dissolved in alcohol, the entrapped particles are examined under the microscope, (b) One of Pasteur's drawings of the structures he observed. The structures were stained with iodine so that they were more visible in the microscope.

Citation: Dubos R. 1998. Spontaneous Generation, p 41-51. In Pasteur and Modern Science. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818265.ch6
Permissions and Reprints Request Permissions
Download as Powerpoint
Image of Figure 4
Figure 4

Equipment used in Pasteur's laboratory for aseptic manipulation of microorganisms. Left, autoclave with pressure gauge, for heating materials to temperatures above the boiling point; center, incubator, for culturing at temperatures above room temperature; right, steamer. Note also the culture flasks in the incubator and in the foreground.

Citation: Dubos R. 1998. Spontaneous Generation, p 41-51. In Pasteur and Modern Science. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818265.ch6
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