Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UM Professor and biologist, Lynn Margulis, dies at 73

By Katie Landeck

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Distinguished University Professor Lynn Margulis, whose controversial theory of endosymbiosis helped to revolutionize modern ideas about evolution, died Tuesday in her home at age 73.

Margulis died five days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, according to the New York Times.

She is most well known for her theory of endosymbiosis that challenges the central theory of Darwinism that random mutation is the primary mechanism driving the evolution of organisms. Instead, she proposed that simple organisms could morph together to create a more sophisticated creature.

Margulis’ primary example of this mechanism for evolution was eukaryotic cells which she argued evolved from a symbiotic relationship between bacteria.

When Margulis first presented this idea to the scientific community in the late 1960s, she was met with ridicule. Fifteen scientific journals refused to publish her initial paper before the Journal of Theoretical Biology accepted it in 1967, according to the New York Times.

“She was a different kind of scientist, one who does not come along very often,” said Dean of the College of Natural Science Steve Goodwin in a statement from the University. “Her great gift was making connections, connections that others just couldn’t make.”

In addition to her theory of endosymbiosis, Margulis was well known for her contributions to James Lovelock’s Gaia concept, which depicts the earth as one giant living organism that is capable of regulating itself.

Margulis started teaching at the UMass the geoscience department in 1988, after teaching at Boston University for 22 years.

“I love my department. No one ever questions my right to go outside,” said Margulis during a lecture about Puffer’s Pond to Commonwealth Honors College students in October.

During her academic career, she authored and co-authored hundreds of papers as well as several books. In 1998, the Library of Congress decided to permanently archive her papers.

In 1983 she was elected into the National Academy of Sciences, and in 1999 she received the National Medal of Science from then President Bill Clinton. In addition, in 2009 she was awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal by the Linnean Society for her work in evolutionary biology. The award is only granted every 50 years.

“Her scholarship earned an international reputation for her as a thinker and writer dealing with complicated ideas and complex theories,” said Chancellor Robert Holub in a campus-wide email. “Her work brought numerous accolades and awards both to her and to UMass.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Margulis enrolled in the University of Chicago at the age of 14. It was there that she met her first husband and renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, who she married the year after she graduated at the age of 19.

She later earned a master’s degree in genetics and zoology from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph. D. in genetics from the University of California, Berkeley.

After her and Sagan divorced, Margulis remarried Thomas N. Margulis who she also divorced.

She is survived by her children Jennifer Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Jermey Sagan, and Zachary Margulis-Phnuma; three sisters; three half-brothers; a half-sister; and nine grandchildren.

According to Holub, the geoscience department in collaboration with the College of Natural Sciences is working to arrange a symposium to honor her work. The details have yet to be announced.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]

 

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