Distinguished University Professor

Lynn Margulis

(3/5/1938 - 11/22/2011)


Lynn Margulis

Distinguished University Professor

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Updated March 2009

Lynn Margulis, the late Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983. She received the National Medal of Science in 1999 from William J. Clinton. The Library of Congress, Washington, DC, announced in 1998 that it will permanently archive her papers. Margulis was president (2005-2006) of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society  from which she received the Proctor Prize for scientific achievement in 1999. Before her move to the Botany Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1988, she had been a biology professor at Boston University for 22 years.

Her publications span a wide-range of scientific topics in cell biology, microbial evolution, taxonomy and Gaia theory. Probably best known for development of the theory of symbiogenesis, she challenged a central tenet of neo-Darwinism: she maintained that little significant inherited variation comes from random mutations in DNA. New organelles, tissues, organs, and even new species evolve primarily through the fusion of genomes in symbioses followed by natural selection. This process, symbiogenesis, leads to increasingly complex levels of composite “individuality”. Beyond contributions to evolution, Dr. Margulis is acknowledged for her microbiological work with James E. Lovelock on his Gaia theory. Gaia theory posits that the Earth’s surface interactions among living beings in sediment, air, and water have created a vast self-regulating system.


Professor Margulis, who participated in hands-on teaching activities at levels from middle to graduate school, was the author of many articles and books. Recent publications include Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (1998), Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (2002), Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on Nature in Nature (2007) both co-written with Dorion Sagan and Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love (2006) was her first fiction. Indeed, over the past decade and a half, Professor Margulis had co-written a number of books with Sagan, among them O What is Sex? (1997), What is Life? (1995), Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991), Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors (1986), and Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination (1986). Her book Kingdoms and Domains, with Michael Chapman provides a consistent, formal, illustrated classification of all life (phyla) on Earth. Based on international work, it encompasses life's immense diversity from microbes to reef-building corals. The logical basis for it is summarized in her single-authored book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons (second edition, 1993). She had just finished the third edition, now renamed Symbiogenetics, shortly before her death.  The bacterial origins of both chloroplasts and mitochondria are established. Her hypothesis of the origin of cilia from spirochetes continues to be actively investigated.

Professor Lynn Margulis

Professor Margulis answers student’s questions on field trip to Harvard Forest during the Environmental Evolution course.

Prof. Margulis explores microbialites at the Moroccan field site studied by her graduate student, Sean Faulkner.

Prof. Margulis on winter walk around Puffers Pond, one of her favorite places and now her resting place.


“Four decades after being rejected by the scientific community, Lynn Margulis’s insights into evolution have become standard textbook fare and established her as one of the most creative scientific thinkers of our day.”

Revolution Evolution

By Eric Goldscheider

Click here to download .pdf


Dear Dr. Lynn Margulis,

I am a Biology teacher in Mexico City.

After reading your book Acquiring Genomes, a doubt came to my mind and, also, recently, in our classroom work (and also with some colleagues) we have been reflecting on the idea of the whole ecological community as a valid and real evolutionary unit,

But I have not been able to find any resource that addresses directly that topic (either in pro and against). Do you know of any author, study or evidence on such a particular matter (in any direction)?

I deeply admire your work in evolution as well as the intellectual disposition you have shown; so, I certainly shall be glad and honored if you would provide me with any advice, suggestion or guidance on this matter.

Truly yours,

Miguel Nadal-Palazon

Centro Escolar Hermanos Revueltas (CEHR)

Cuidad de Mexico, Mexico

Euraryotes evolved by symbiogenesis. They represent the integration of community. The community has become the individual.

Then there are obligate symbionts (partners who cannot live without each other (e.g., humans and some of their  intestinal bacteria.). Communities of organisms live at a time and in a place nested inside one another.  Evolution is a process that involves correlated changes through time of the planet and life.  Earlier communities “conditioned” the Earth we now inhabit.

“Intimacy Of Strangers & Natural Selection”: An interview with Lynn Margulis by Suzan Mazur on Scoop Independent News, Monday, 16 March 2009

John Templeton Foundation celebrates the birth of Papa Carlos Darwin by asking the world’s heavy hitters the Big Question, “Does evolution explain human nature?  Click here for Professor Margulis reply.

Updated 01/20/2014

Lynn Margulis (front row, third from left) celebrates along with many friends of James Lovelock

“Lynn Margulis MS’60 is one of those rare scientists whose research fundamentally altered the way we view the world —” so begins Eric Goldscheider’s article Evolution Revolution in the Fall 2009 issue of On Wisconsin MagazineLynn Margulis_OnWis_fall09.pdf.

The Leonardo da Vinci Society for the Study of Thinking inducted Dr. Lynn Margulis as a member to  recognize her as “one of the world's greatest living thinkers.” Citing her revolutionary work on the origin of nucleated cells (Serial Endosymbiotic Theory) and her collaboration with James Lovelock on Gaia Theory.

Quoting from the Society's release. " Dr. Lynn Margulis, through her revolutionary life's work in theoretical biology, has enhanced the intellectual progress of mankind... Heralded as one of the most original thinkers of our era, Professor Margulis has authored more than 130 scientific articles and 10 books.  The most recent include Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature (2007), co-writen with Dorion Sagan and Mind, Life and Universe: Conversations with Great Scienists of Our Time (2007), co-writen with Eduardo Punset.”

Lynn Margulis (on shoreline) preparing to take an October morning swim in Puffers Pond

Looking at Spirochaeta perfilievia, provided by her Russian colleague, Galina Dubinina.

2009 her year “as an English gentleman” Eastman Professor at Balliol College, Oxford University

Studying the endosymbionts of Pectinatella magnifica, a fresh water bryozoan. Summer 2011.

With her Library of Congress archivist, Leonardo Bruno, on trip to Washington, D.C.

I'm so sorry to hear about Lynn's death.  I'm going to miss having her to talk to - she was a great scientist!!  I'll miss her a lot.

James Lake, 2011 Darwin-Wallace Medal recipient

“We might even say that it was Lynn Margulis, not Charles Darwin, who actually explained the mechanics of the origin of species.”  click here to read Mark McMenamin’s In Memorium to Lynn Margulis from 21st Century Science & TechnologyLynn_Margulis_files/Margulis%20In%20Memoriam.pdf

This [The Lynn Margulis archive] is a fitting tribute to Lynn’s lofty ideals—important, admirable, biological models of high intellectual value.  In a general sense, Lynn had a concise and incisive concept of evolutionary biology in its absolute perfection.  As a theoretical biologist, she was a scientific visionary.  May her enlightening contributions always be honored and remembered.  In my view, Lynn Margulis was a true luminary in our modern world of science, and her work and dedication shall always serve as an inspiration to others.

Gerald J. Domingue

Professor Emeritus

Tulane University

A Lynn Margulis archive is being established by ScholarWorks at the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  The archive will celebrate the late Distinguished University Professor of Geosciences who has been called “ the master architect for re-thinking biology in terms of interacting consortia”.  This “New Biology” replaces the so-called Modern Synthesis (neo-Darwinism) which has dominated evolutionary biology and the biological sciences since the 1930s.