Lynn Margulis

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Lynn Margulis
Lynn Margulis.jpg
Born (1938-03-05)March 5, 1938
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died November 22, 2011(2011-11-22) (aged 73)
Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Biology
Institutions Boston University
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Alma mater University of Chicago
University of Wisconsin-Madison
UC Berkeley
Known for Symbiogenesis
Gaia hypothesis
Notable awards National Medal of Science (1999)
William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement (1999)
Darwin-Wallace Medal (2008)
Spouse Carl Sagan
(m. 1957–1965, divorced)
Thomas Margulis
(m. 1967–1980, divorced)
Children Dorion Sagan (1959)
Jeremy Ethan Sagan (1960)
Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma
Jennifer Margulis di Properzio

Lynn Margulis (born Lynn Petra Alexander;[1][2] March 5, 1938 – November 22, 2011)[3] was an American biologist and University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.[2][4] She developed a theory of the origin of eukaryotic organelles, and contributed to the endosymbiotic theory, which is now generally accepted for how certain organelles were formed. She showed that animals, plants, and fungi all originated from Protists. She is also associated with the Gaia hypothesis, based on an idea developed by the English environmental scientist James Lovelock.


Lynn Margulis was born in Chicago, to Morris Alexander and Leona Wise Alexander. She was the eldest of four daughters. Her father was an attorney and run a company that made road paints. Her mother operated a travel agency.[5] She entered the Hyde Park Academy High School in 1952.[6] A precocious students, she was accepted at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools,[7] while on her second secondary year at the age of fifteen (she had applied a year earlier).[8][9] She recalled, "because I wanted to go and they let me in".[10] She joined the university after a year in 1954. In 1957, at age 19, she earned a BA in Liberal Arts. She joined the University of Wisconsin to study biology under Hans Ris, and graduated in 1960 with an MS in Genetics and Zoology. She then pursued research at the University of California, Berkeley, under the zoologist Max Alfert. Before she could complete her dissertation, she was offered lectureship at Brandeis University in Massachusetts in 1964. It was while working there that she obtained her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965. In 1966 she moved to Boston University, where she taught biology for twenty-two years. In 1970 she was promoted to Asoociate Professor. In 1988 she was appointed Distinguished Professor of Botany at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In 1997 she was transferred to Department of Geosciences at Amherst to became Distinguished Professor of Geosciences "with great delight",[11] the post which she held until her death.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Margulis married astronomer Carl Sagan in 1957 soon after she got her BA degree. Sagan was then a graduate student in physics. Their marriage ended in 1964, just before she completed her PhD. They had two sons Dorion Sagan, who later became popular science writer and her collaborator, and Jeremy Sagan, software developer and founder of Sagan Technology. In 1967, she married Thomas N. Margulis, a crystallographer. They had a son Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, New York City criminal defense lawyer, and a daughter Jennifer Margulis, teacher and author .[13][14] They divorced in 1980. She claimed that she quit her job as wife twice, because it is not humanly possible to be a good wife, a good mother, and a first class scientist.[12] In the 2000s she had a relationship with fellow biologist Ricardo Guerrero.[6]

She was an agnostic,[6] and an ardent evolutionist. But she totally rejected modern evolutionary synthesis, and said:

I remember waking up one day with an epiphanous revelation: I am not a neo-Darwinist! It recalled an earlier experience, when I realized that I wasn't a humanistic Jew.

Although I greatly admire Darwin's contributions and agree with most of his theoretical analysis and I am a Darwinist, I am not a neo-Darwinist.[15]

Her sister Joan Alexander married Nobel Laureate Sheldon Lee Glashow; another sister, Sharon, married mathematician Daniel Kleitman.


Margulis died on November 22, 2011 at home in Amherst, Massachusetts, five days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.[1][16][17]


Endosymbiosis theory[edit]

Main article: Symbiogenesis

Lynn Margulis attended the University of Chicago, earned a master's degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960, and received her Ph.D. in 1963 in the faculty of Biological Sciences from UC Berkeley in Botany. In 1966, as a young faculty member at Boston University, she wrote a theoretical paper titled "On the Origin of Mitosing Cells".[18] The paper however was "rejected by about fifteen scientific journals," Margulis recalled.[19] It was finally accepted by Journal of Theoretical Biology and is considered today a landmark in modern endosymbiotic theory. Although it draws heavily on symbiosis ideas first put forward by mid-19th century scientists and by Merezhkovsky (1905) and Ivan Wallin (1920) in the early-20th century, Margulis's endosymbiotic theory formulation is the first to rely on direct microbiological observations (as opposed to paleontological or zoological observations which were previously the norm for new works in evolutionary biology). Weathering constant criticism of her ideas for decades, Margulis is famous for her tenacity in pushing her theory forward, despite the opposition she faced at the time.

The underlying theme of endosymbiosis theory, as formulated in 1966, was interdependence and cooperative existence of multiple prokaryotic organisms; one organism phagocytosed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells. Her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, discusses her early work pertaining to this organelle genesis theory in detail. Currently, her endosymbiosis theory is recognized as the key method by which some organelles have arisen (see endosymbiotic theory for a discussion) and is widely accepted by mainstream scientists. The endosymbiosis theory of organogenesis gained strong support in the 1980s, when the genetic material of mitochondria and chloroplasts was found to be different from that of the symbiont's nuclear DNA.[20]

In 1995, prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins had this to say about Lynn Margulis and her work:

Symbiosis as evolutionary force[edit]

Main article: Symbiosis

She later formulated a theory to explain how symbiotic relationships between organisms of often different phyla or kingdoms are the driving force of evolution. Genetic variation is proposed to occur mainly as a result of transfer of nuclear information between bacterial cells or viruses and eukaryotic cells. While her organelle genesis ideas are widely accepted, symbiotic relationships as a current method of introducing genetic variation is something of a fringe idea.

She also held a negative view of certain interpretations of Neo-Darwinism that she felt were excessively focused on inter-organismic competition, as she believed that history will ultimately judge them as comprising "a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology."[22] She also believed that proponents of the standard theory "wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him... Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk."[22]

She opposed such competition-oriented views of evolution, stressing the importance of symbiotic or cooperative relationships between species.

AIDS/HIV theory[edit]

In 2009 Margulis co-authored with seven others a paper stating "Detailed research that correlates life histories of symbiotic spirochetes to changes in the immune system of associated vertebrates is sorely needed" and urging the "reinvestigation of the natural history of mammalian, tick-borne, and venereal transmission of spirochetes in relation to impairment of the human immune system."[23] Margulis later argued that "there's no evidence that HIV is an infectious virus" and that AIDS symptoms "overlap ... completely" with those of syphilis.[24] Seth Kalichman, HIV researcher and professor of psychology who spent a year infiltrating HIV denialist groups, cited her 2009 paper as an example of AIDS denialism "flourishing",[25] and argued that her "endorsement of HIV/AIDS denialism defies understanding."

Metamorphosis theory[edit]

In 2009, via a then-standard publication-process known as "communicated submission", she was instrumental in getting the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) to publish a paper by Donald I. Williamson rejecting "the Darwinian assumption that larvae and their adults evolved from a single common ancestor."[26][27] Williamson's paper provoked immediate response from the scientific community, including a countering paper in PNAS.[26] Conrad Labandeira of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said, "If I was reviewing [Williamson's paper] I would probably opt to reject it," he says, "but I'm not saying it's a bad thing that this is published. What it may do is broaden the discussion on how metamorphosis works and…[on]…the origin of these very radical life cycles." But Duke University insect developmental biologist Fred Nijhout said that the paper was better suited for the "National Enquirer than the National Academy."[28] In September it was announced that PNAS would eliminate communicated submissions in July 2010. PNAS stated that the decision had nothing to do with the Williamson controversy.[27]

Five kingdoms of life[edit]

The entire life on earth was traditionally classified into five kingdoms, as introduced by Robert Whittater in 1969.[29] But later discoveries of new organisms, such as archaea, and emergence of molecular taxonomy challenged the concept. By the mid-2000s, most scientist began to agree that there are more then five kingdoms.[30][31] Margulis became the most important defender of the five kingdom classification. She introduced an improved classfification by which all life forms, including newly discovered, could be integrated into the classical five kingdoms. Her concept is given in detail in her book Five Kingdoms, written with Karlene V. Schwartz.[32] It is mainly because of her that this five kingdom system survives.[11]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Select publications and bibliography[edit]


  • Margulis, Lynn (2009). "Genome acquisition in horizontal gene transfer: symbiogenesis and macromolecular sequence analysis". In Gogarten, Maria Boekels; Gogarten, Johann Peter; Olendzenski, Lorraine C. Horizontal Gene Transfer:Genomes in Flux 532. Humana Press. pp. 181–191. doi:10.1007/978-1-60327-853-9_10. ISBN 978-1-60327-852-2. PMID 19271185. 
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (2007). Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-31-8
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Eduardo Punset, eds. (2007). Mind, Life and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-61-5
  • Margulis, Lynn (2007). Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-33-2
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (2002). Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species, Perseus Books Group, ISBN 0-465-04391-7
  • Margulis, Lynn, et al. (2002). The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change, University of New Hampshire, ISBN 1-58465-062-1
  • Margulis, Lynn (1998). Symbiotic Planet : A New Look at Evolution, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07271-2
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Karlene V. Schwartz (1997). Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, W.H. Freeman & Company, ISBN 0-613-92338-3
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (1997). What Is Sex?, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-684-82691-7
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (1997). Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution, Copernicus Books, ISBN 0-387-94927-5
  • Sagan, Dorion, and Margulis, Lynn (1993). The Garden of Microbial Delights: A Practical Guide to the Subvisible World, Kendall/Hunt, ISBN 0-8403-8529-3
  • Margulis, Lynn (1992). Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, W.H. Freeman, ISBN 0-7167-7028-8
  • Margulis, Lynn, ed. (1991). Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation: Speciation and Morphogenesis, The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-13269-9
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (1991). Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality, Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-63341-4
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (1987). Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-04-570015-X
  • Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan (1986). Origins of Sex : Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-03340-0
  • Margulis, Lynn (1982). Early Life, Science Books International, ISBN 0-86720-005-7
  • Margulis, Lynn (1970). Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-01353-1



  1. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (24 November 2011). "Lynn Margulis, Evolution Theorist, Dies at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Lake, James A (2011). "Lynn Margulis (1938–2011)". Nature 480 (7378): 458–458. doi:10.1038/480458a. PMID 22193092. 
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  15. ^ Margulis, Lynn. "Gaia Is A Tough Bitch". The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution. Edge. Retrieved 18 December 2014. 
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  19. ^ John Brockman, The Third Culture, New York: Touchstone, 1995, 135.
  20. ^ Acceptance Doesn't Come Easy (Accessed July 15, 2006)
  21. ^ John Brockman, The Third Culture, New York: Touchstone, 1995, 144.
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  23. ^ Syphilis, Lyme disease & AIDS: Resurgence of “the great imitator”?, SYMBIOSIS Vol. 47, No. 1 (2009), pp. 51–58
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  25. ^ Kalichman, S. C.; Eaton, L.; Cherry, C. (2010). ""There is no Proof that HIV Causes AIDS": AIDS Denialism Beliefs among People Living with HIV/AIDS". Journal of Behavioral Medicine 33 (6): 432–440. doi:10.1007/s10865-010-9275-7. PMC 3015095. PMID 20571892.  edit
  26. ^ a b Williamson, D. I. (2009). "Caterpillars evolved from onychophorans by hybridogenesis". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (47): 19901–19905. doi:10.1073/pnas.0908357106. PMC 2785264. PMID 19717430. 
  27. ^ a b [1] Controversial caterpillar-evolution study formally rebutted, Scientific American Online
  28. ^ Borrell, Brendan. "National Academy as National Enquirer ? PNAS Publishes Theory That Caterpillars Originated from Interspecies Sex". Scientific American. Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
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  30. ^ Simpson, Alastair G.B. & Roger, Andrew J. (2004), "The real ‘kingdoms’ of eukaryotes", Current Biology 14 (17): R693–6, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.038, PMID 15341755 
  31. ^ Adl, SM; Simpson, AG; Farmer, MA; Andersen, RA; Anderson, OR; Barta, JR; Bowser, SS; Brugerolle, G, et al. (2005). "The new higher level classification of eukaryotes with emphasis on the taxonomy of protists.". The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 52 (5): 399–451. doi:10.1111/j.1550-7408.2005.00053.x. PMID 16248873. 
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  33. ^ Guest Lecturers
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External links[edit]