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Biography

Lynn Margulis was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her work primarily focused on microbial evolution and organelle heredity. She received an A.B. from the University of Chicago, 1957, a M.S. from the University of Wisconsin, 1960, and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, 1963. She was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and had been a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences since 1983 and the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1997. In 2008 she received the prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal, given every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London. She co-founded two international societies, the International Society of Evolutionary Protistology and the International Symbiosis Society. She was president (2005-2006) of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society, from which she received the Proctor Prize for scientific achievement in 1999. The Library of Congress announced in 1998 that it would permanently archive her papers.

In 1988, Margulis came to UMass, Amherst as a Distinguished University Professor of Botany. When the Botany and Zoology Departments merged in the early 1990s she became a member of the new Department of Biology, eventually finding her home in the Department of Geosciences. There she continued teaching the “Environmental Evolution: Effect of Life on Planet Earth” course that she developed when she was at Boston University and which she had taught every year since 1972. With her students and colleagues in the field and laboratory, she investigated microbial symbioses, especially bacteria and protoctists under microoxic conditions. Ecological fieldwork on these themes took her beyond the northeast region of North America on trips to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco.

Her publications span a wide-range of scientific topics, mainly in cell biology and microbial evolution. Probably best known for the Endosymbiotic Theory for the evolution of eukaryotic cells, and Symbiogenesis as a primary force of evolution. She argued, and adduced evidence for the idea that little significant inherited variation comes from random mutations in DNA, but rather 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 individuals and levels of individuality.

Relatedly, Dr. Margulis is acknowledged for her microbiological work with James E. Lovelock on his Gaia concept. Gaia posits that the Earth's surface interactions with life in the sediment, air, and water are involved in vast regulatory networks that modulate ecosystems and global climate. Author, editor, or coauthor of chapters of more than forty books, she published and was profiled in many journals, magazines, and books, among them Natural History, Science, Nature, Scientific American, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Margulis made numerous contributions to the primary scientific literature of microbial evolution and cell biology. She also contributed to modern biological taxonomy and was a leading voice in the popularization of modern biology.