For centuries, people believed that maggots and fungi magically sprung from inanimate objects out of thin air. Spontaneous generation! How babies happened was also shrouded in myth, and by the mid-1600s, people had yet to figure out that, in humans, barely visible eggs and microscopic sperm were part of the process. Turns out, all it took was a pair of frog pants to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
A happy day for science: frogs in pants, the first empirical demonstration of barrier contraception, and spontaneous generation went the way of the powdered wig.
Katie L. Burke is an ecologist-turned-science-journalist, who writes about all things biology. Currently an editor at American Scientist, she also blogs at The UnderStory (www.the-understory.com). Follow her on Twitter: @_klburke.
Image Attributions 1.PG 1 Scientists: Original illustration utilizing source image of Anton van Leeuwenhoek from the Library of Congress (http://www.answers.com/topic/anton-van-leeuwenhoek) and source image from Wikimedia Commons for Lazzaro Spallanzani (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Lazzaro_Spallanzani). 2.PG 2 Frog in pants: Original illustration utilizing multiple sources.3.PG 3 Frogs mating: Original illustration based on source image from Peter Chen, available through GNU General Public License (http://bio1151b.nicerweb.net/Locked/media/ch46/). 4. PG 4 Tadpoles: Original illustration based on source image from Geoffrey Gallice, available through Creative Commons license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dejeuxx/6407253419/) 5. PG 5 Eggs: Original illustration; source is artist’s photograph.