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Commemorating Lynn Margulis

From the University of Massachusetts Department of Geosciences, "A Tribute to Lynn Margulis"

Lynn Margulis, "Margulis Darwin." April 20, 2011.

Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983. She received the National Medal of Science in 1999 from William J. Clinton. The Library of Congress, Washington, DC, announced in 1998 that it will permanently archive her papers. Margulis was president (2005-2006) of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society  from which she received the Proctor Prize for scientific achievement in 1999. On her move to the Botany Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1988, she had been a biology professor at Boston University for 22 years.

Her publications span a wide-range of scientific topics. Mainly in cell biology and microbial evolution. Probably best known for development of the theory of symbiogenesis, she challenges a central tenet of neo-Darwinism: little significant inherited variation comes from random mutations in DNA. New organelles, tissues, organs, and even new species evolve primarily through the fusion of genomes in symbioses followed by natural selection. Symbiogenesis leads to increasingly complex levels of individuality. Beyond contributions to evolution, Dr. Margulis is acknowledged for her microbiological work with James E. Lovelock on his Gaia concept. Gaia theory posits that the Earth’s surface interactions among living beings in sediment, air, and water have created a vast self-regulating system.

Professor Margulis, who participates in hands-on teaching activities at levels from middle to graduate school, is the author of many articles and books. Recent publications include Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (1998), Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (2002),Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on Nature in Nature (2007) both co-written with Dorion Sagan and Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love (2006) is her first fiction. Indeed, over the past decade and a half, Professor Margulis has co-written a number of books with Sagan, among them What is Sex? (1997), What is Life? (1995), Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991), Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors (1986), and Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination (1986). Her book Kingdoms and Domains with Michael Chapman provides a consistent, formal, illustrated classification of all life (phyla) on Earth. Based on international work, it encompasses life's immense diversity from microbes to reef-building corals. The logical basis for it is summarized in her single-authored book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons (second edition, 1993). The bacterial origins of both chloroplasts and mitochondria are established. Her hypothesis of the origin of cilia from spirochetes continues, with other areas of inquiry she opened, to be actively investigated.

For more images, tributes, and articles on Lynn Margulis, visit

Audio and Video Clips

"Homage to Darwin: Evolution Debate with Dawkins, Margulis, Brasier, Bell and chaired by Dennis Noble." Voices from Oxford.

"Lynn Margulis." Last Word, BBC, December 11, 2011.

Look for a collection of essays on Lynn Margulis later this year (available through Chelsea Green Publishing).