Lynn Margulis

Presented by Sharon Kinsman, Associate Professor of Biology, for Doctor of Science

Mentioned as “the most gifted theoretical biologist of her generation” and widely recognized for her original contributions to the study of microbial evolution and cell biology, Lynn Margulis is the kind of scientist who questions assumption. Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Margulis received the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton, the Sigma Xi William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, and Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Prize. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, and the Library of Congress announced in 1998 that it would permanently archive her papers. She is best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges a central tenet of neo-Darwinism. Margulis argues that many independent organisms have merged to form composites. It is the inheritance of acquired genomes that leads to increasingly complex levels of individuality. Margulis is also recognized for her contribution to James Lovelock’s Gaia concept. First proposed 30 years ago, the theory posits that the Earth’s surface interactions create a vast regulating system. An environmentalist and popularizer of science who has shared her knowledge through hands-on teaching from middle to graduate school, Margulis has written many articles and books, including Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (1998) and Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of Origin of the Species (2002), written with Dorion Sagan, her co-author on a range of books for almost two decades. Their other titles include What Is Sex? (1997), What is Life? (1995), and Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991). Margulis’ work with K.V. Schwartz provides a consistent formal classification of all life on Earth, laid out in Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (third edition, 1998). The logical basis for this evolutionary classification scheme is summarized in Margulis’ book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons (second edition, 1993). At present, she studies the possible bacterial origin of undulipodia (e.g., cilia and sperm tails). A native of Chicago and a faculty member at Boston University for 22 years, Margulis received her undergraduate A.B. in liberal arts at the University of Chicago. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

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