Portrait of Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis

Evolutionary Biologist and Science Popularizer
March 5, 1938 – November 22, 2011

Lynn Margulis was an American evolutionary theorist, biologist, science author, educator, and science popularizer, and was the primary modern proponent for the significance of symbiosis in evolution. Historian Jan Sapp has said that "Lynn Margulis's name is as synonymous with symbiosis as Charles Darwin's is with evolution." Margulis was also the co-developer of the Gaia hypothesis with the British chemist James Lovelock, proposing that the Earth functions as a single self-regulating system, and was the principal defender and promulgator of the five kingdom classification of Robert Whittaker.

Throughout her career, Margulis' work could arouse intense objection (one grant application elicited the response, "Your research is crap. Don't ever bother to apply again.") and her formative paper, "On the Origin of Mitosing Cells", appeared in 1967 after being rejected by about fifteen journals. Still a junior faculty member at Boston University at the time, her theory that cell organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts were once independent bacteria was largely ignored for another decade, becoming widely accepted only after it was powerfully substantiated through genetic evidence. Margulis was elected a member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1983. President Bill Clinton presented her the National Medal of Science in 1999. The Linnean Society of London awarded her the Darwin-Wallace Medal in 2008.