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Great Scientists

Lynn Margulis

1938 - 2011

Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis was an American biologist who is considered one of the leading figures in the study of symbiosis in biological evolution.

  • Nationality
  • American

  • Subject
  • Biology

  • Fields
  • Evolutionary theory, protistology, botany, bacteriology, zoology, genetics

  • Distinctions
  • (US) National Medal of Science, 1999

    William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement, 1999

    Darwin-Wallace Medal, 2008, Linnean Society of London.

  • Publications
  • Co-author of many books in collaboration with her son, Dorion Sagan.

    On the Origin of Mitosing Cells. Originally rejected 15 times by journals it was finally published in 1967.

  • Theories
  • Symbiogenesis: the theory that cell organelles, such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, were once separate bacteria, and merged to become a functional part of a cell.

    Co-developer of the Gaia Hypothesis, with James Lovelock

    Supported Robert Whittaker's five kingdom classification

Not afraid to be controversial, Margulis developed the Gaia Hypothesis with James Lovelock, and proposed that cells with nuclei are the result of mergers of bacteria. This revolutionised the premises on which the genetic and cytological explanation of evolution rested.

She is a vindicated rebel who had a hard struggle to get her ideas taken seriously.

She rejected neo-Darwinism, the theory of evolutionary synthesis. She maintained that natural selection has a role in selection and elimination, but the main driver of evolutionary change was symbiosis (the merging of bacteria to form the organelles of a cell with a nucleus).