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The obsolete concept that plant and animal life arise from nonliving organic matter. Also known as autogenesis; spontaneous generation.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the theory of the origin of living organisms from inorganic substance. Until the middle of the 19th century, abiogenesis was understood as spontaneous generation, that is, the sudden origin of complex living organisms from nonliving matter. Thus, as late as the 17th century, people believed in the spontaneous generation of worms, fish, frogs, and even mice from dew, slime, and mud. However, the Italian scientist F. Redi showed in 1668 that maggots develop in putrid meat only from the eggs laid by flies. In the 18th century the Italian scientist L. Spallanzani demonstrated that microorganisms do not develop in thoroughly boiled broth. This was definitely proved in 1861 by the French scientist L. Pasteur, whose experiments, however, did not disprove the theory that abiogenesis could have taken place in earlier geological periods. F. Engels criticized biogenesis, that is, the theory of eternal life. He believed that life is a particular form of the movement of matter, arising at definite stages of its development.

At present, most scientists believe that the origin of life is a lengthy process that took place on earth in distant geological periods, when conditions (the temperature; the chemical composition of the gas, liquid, and solid layers of the earth; and radiation) were vastly different from those of today. One of the best-known theories of abiogenesis was developed by the Soviet scientist A. I. Oparin.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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