BIOGENESIS (from the Gr., life, and , generation, birth), a biological term for the theory according to which each living organism, however simple, arises by a process of budding, fission, spore-formation of sexual reproduction from a parent organism. Under the heading of Abiogenesis (q.v.) is discussed the series of steps by which the modern acceptance of biogenesis and rejection of abiogenesis has been brought about. No biological generalization rests on a wider series of observations, or has been subjected to a more critical scrutiny than that every living organism has come into existence from a living portion or portions of a pre-existing organism. In the articles Reproduction and Heredity the details of the relations between parent and offspring are discussed. There remains for treatment here a curious collateral issue of the theory. It is within common observation that parent and offspring are alike: that the new organism resembles that from which it has come into existence: in fine, biogenesis is homogenesis. Every organism takes origin from a parent organism of the same kind. The conception of homogenesis, however, does not imply an absolute similarity between parent and organism. In the first place, the normal life-cycle of plants and animals exhibits what is known as alternation of generations, so that any individual in the chain may resemble its grand-parent and its grand-child, and differ markedly from its parent and child. Next, any organism may pass through a series of free-living larval stages, so that the new organism at first resembles its parent only very remotely, corresponding to an early stage in the life-history of that parent. (See Embryology, Larval Forms and Reproduction.) Finally, the conception of homogenesis does not exclude the differences between parent and offspring that continually occur, forming the material for the slow alteration of stocks in the course of evolution (see Variation and Selection). Homogenesis means simply that such organism comes into existence directly from a parent organism of the same race, and hence of the same species, sub-species, genus and so forth.
From time to time there have been observers who have maintained a belief in the opposite theory, to which the name heterogenesis has been given. According to the latter theory, the offspring of a given organism may be utterly different from itself, so that a known animal may give rise to another known animal of a different race, species, genus, or even family, or to a plant, or vice versa. The most extreme cases of this belief is the well-known fable of the "barnacle-geese," an illustrated account of which was printed in an early volume of the Royal Society of London. Buds of a particular tree growing near the sea were described as producing barnacles, and these, falling into the water, were supposed to develop into geese. The whole story was an imaginary embroidery of the facts that barnacles attach themselves to submerged timber and that a species of goose is known as the bernicle goose. In modern times the exponents of heterogenesis have limited themselves to cases of microscopic animals and plants, and in most cases, the observations that they have brought forward have been explained by minuter observation as cases of parasitism. No serious observer, acquainted with modern microscopic technical methods, has been able to confirm the explanation of their observations given by the few modern believers in heterogenesis.
(P. C. M.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)