Francesco Redi was a 17th-century Italian scientist whose most notable contribution to scientific knowledge was his work discrediting the notion that life can come from non-living things.
In this lesson, learn more about his life and work.
Background to Fransesco Redi
Boy, it seems they don’t make ’em like that anymore. Francesco Redi was not only a world-class scientist responsible for the fruit fly experiment many of us remember from high school biology class, but he was also a published poet, academic, and physician.We’ll visit his famous meats, maggots, and flies experiment later in this lesson, after learning a little more about some of his early life and training.
Biography of Redi
Francesco Redi was born in Italy in 1626, towards the tail end of the Renaissance, which greatly influenced his thinking and his varied interests in the arts and sciences.
His father was the family physician to the famed Medici family, one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Europe.Francesco trained as a physician and took over his father’s role as Medici family physician. During this time, he earned a reputation as one of the finest scientists in the world, earning membership in Europe’s most prestigious scientific societies of the time.
Redi’s Early Scientific Findings
His first monumental scientific work was about snake venom and offered evidence contrary to many of the common beliefs about snake venom of the time. During this time, he also emphasized in his scientific writing the importance of experimental controls, a control group and a test group.He was certainly not the first scientist to arrive at this idea. However, because of his clear style of writing and his renown, his championing of the notion of experimental controls certainly had a wide influence on the scientific community of the day.
Redi’s Theory of Biogenesis
It was a commonly held belief in the 1600s that life could arise from non-living materials, a process called spontaneous generation or abiogenesis.I am the father of three girls who have a tendency to leave half-eaten apples and bananas in the back of the car. Sure enough, when those non-living things are left in the car, clouds of fruit flies result.
It’s easy to see why people would believe in spontaneous generation. Using a controlled experiment, Francesco Redi challenged the commonly held and easily understandable notion that maggots come from rotting meat. After all, when there is rotting meat, there are usually maggots.In Redi’s experiments, meat was put into a jar with three types of treatments.
One was left entirely uncovered, open to the air. A second was covered with gauze, through which air could pass, but large insects could not. The third was covered entirely, blocking air and everything else from the meat.Maggots developed on the meat in the uncovered jar. Maggots developed on the gauze to the second jar, but not on the meat. No maggots developed anywhere on the entirely sealed jars.
His experiments strongly supported the idea of biogenesis, that life comes only from other life, as the maggots, which develop eventually into flies, only arose on the meat when flies (life) were able to access the meat directly.Redi published the results of his work in 1668 in his seminal work, Esperienze Intorno Alia Generazione Degli Insetti (Experiments on the Generation of Insects). While this work did not disprove abiogenesis, it was probably the most historically influential work in discrediting the idea.
Redi’s Other Work
Redi did much of his work on parasites and was a renowned expert in that field at the time. He was also a poet, and his poem ‘Bacco in Toscana’ (‘Bacchus in Tuscany’) celebrated the wines of Tuscany, and is not only considered one of the great literary works of the 17th century, it is still read today, especially by Italian vinophiles.
Working in Italy in the 17th century, Francesco Redi was a titanic figure in the science of the time and remains so to this day. He was a world-class scientist responsible for the fruit fly experiment that many of us remember from high school biology class, as well as a published poet, academic, and physician.His most famous and influential work strongly discredited the notion of spontaneous generation, abiogenesis, or life arising from nothing, by demonstrating that maggots only are found on meat when it is exposed to the air, and flies, not when meat is sealed off from the elements. This led to the theory of biogenesis, or the theory that life can only arise from other life.He also studied snake venom and parasites, and he promoted the idea of experimental controls, which involve a control group and a test group.
However, a true Renaissance man, he was also an eminent physician and poet.