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Francesco Redi was an Italian entomologist, parasitologist and toxicologist, sometimes referred to as the "founder of experimental biology" and the "father of modern parasitology". Having a doctoral degree and in both medicine and philosophy from the University of Pisa at the age of 21, he worked in various cities of Italy.
Redi is best known for his series of experiments, published in 1668 as Esperienze Intorno alla Generazione degli Insetti ("Experiments on the Generation of Insects"), which is regarded as his masterpiece and a milestone in the history of modern science. The book is one of the first steps in refuting "spontaneous generation", a theory also known as "Aristotelian abiogenesis". At the time, prevailing theory was that maggots arose spontaneously from rotting meat, which Redi was able to disprove. In an experiment, He used samples of rotting meat that were either fully exposed to the air, partially exposed to the air, or not exposed to air at all. Redi showed that both fully and partially exposed rotting meat developed fly maggots, whereas rotting meat that was not exposed to air did not develop maggots. This discovery completely changed the way people viewed the decomposition of organisms and prompted further investigations into insect life cycles and into entomology in general. It is also an early example of forensic entomology.
In Esperienze Intorno alla Generazione degli Insetti Redi was the first to describe ectoparasites, such as lice (Phthiraptera), fleas (Siphonaptera), and some mites (Acari). His next treatise in 1684, titled Osservazioni intorno agli animali viventi che si trovano negli animali viventi ("Observations on Living Animals, that are in Living Animals") recorded the descriptions and the illustrations of more than 100 parasites. In it he also differentiates the earthworm (generally regarded as a helminth) and Ascaris lumbricoides, the human roundworm. An important innovation from the book is his experiments in chemotherapy in which he employed what is now called "scientific control", the basis of experimental design in modern biological research. Perhaps, his most significant observation was that parasites produce eggs and develop from them, which contradicted the prevailing opinion that they are produced spontaneously. Altogether he is known to have described some 180 species of parasites.See also: Distinguished authors of previous months.
Species of the month
Some facts about this gymnosperm:
Visual characteristics: Grows up to 3 meters tall. Fronds are olive to yellow-green, and about 1 meter long, while leaflets are narrow (80–140 x 2–4 mm), with strongly revolute margins. The seeds have a yellow, fleshy covering.
Pollination: Initially believed to be wind-pollinated, recent studies show that cones are pollinated mainly by the weevil family, and beetles from the Boganiidae, such as Metacucujus encephalarti. The Boganiidae are known only from South Africa and Australia, and this distribution, shared with the cycad family, indicates an ancient association between these insects and these plants. The beetles are strongly attracted by allomones produced in the early mornings and evenings by both male and female cones.
Toxicity: The seeds are poisonous, containing the azoxyglycosides macrozamin and cycasin, and these are also present in the flesh, roots, stems and leaves, though in smaller concentrations. These toxins are characteristic of and exclusive to the cycads, and play an important role in deterring herbivores.
Habitat: Shrub- and grassland in sub-Saharan Afromontane ecoregions.
Distribution: This species is endemic to KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa, recorded at 10–12 locations from 700 to 2,400 meters above sea level. It is strongly associated with Natal Drakensberg on the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau. The largest stands are found in the Mlambonja Valley, South Africa.
Number or mature plants: 8,000–10,000 (declining).
Conservation status: Vulnerable (2009). This species is listed on Appendix I of the CITES Appendices. Populations are protected in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and in the Mpendle Nature Reserve.
Etymology: Eponym of Édouard de Ghellinck de Walle, the 19th Century Belgian Ghent plant collector, horticulturist and amateur botanist who first cultivated it in Europe.
See also: Species of previous months