Lynn Margulis

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

March 5, 1938 - November 22, 2011


Election Year: 1983
Scientific Discipline: Evolutionary Biology
Membership Type: Member

Lynn Margulis revolutionized cellular evolution with her theory of endosymbiosis, which provided a new explanation for the formation of certain organelles within a cell. She observed that mitochondria and chloroplasts in eukaryotes bore a striking resemblance to bacteria: proteobacteria and cyanobacteria, respectively. Mitochondria and chloroplasts both have their own genetic information, which led Margulis to deduce that these organelles had evolved from symbiotic bacteria. Margulis argued that the most important mechanism of evolution was symbiosis and not the traditional Darwinian motive of survival of the fittest.
Margulis graduated from the University of Chicago in 1957 and earned her master’s degree in genetics and zoology from the University of Wisconsin in 1960. She pursued her PhD in genetics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and joined the biology department at Boston University, where she taught from 1966 to 1988. She was a credited author of many books, including Origins of Sex, Microcosmos, and Early Life. She was named Distinguished University Professor of botany at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and held her title when she joined the department of biology and later the department of geosciences. In 1999 she was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Clinton.

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