RIP Lynn Margulis


Sad news, everyone. Lynn Margulis passed away two days ago.

Important? Hell, yeah. Never met her in person. But she came up with one of the most fascinating scientific theories ever: the endosymbiotic theory. Remember, the stuff you are told from high school: mitochondria and plastids (such as chloroplasts) originated from free-living bacteria that were integrated in other cells. The whole system ended up being an eukaryotic cell, in other words what composes us.

Ok, she was not the first one to come up with this idea: a Russian scientist, Konstantin Mereshkowsky, did it in the beginning of the 20th century. But Lynn Margulis was the first one to propose a real solid theoretical skeleton for this empirical observation. This is what accomplished her paper “On the origin of mitosing cells” published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1967, after having been rejected by 15 other journals!

She was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass). Here is the tribute to her and her awesome work by the UMass Chancellor Robert C. Hollub:

To the Campus Community:

Lynn Margulis, an internationally renowned evolutionary biologist and one of the most prominent and distinguished members of the UMass Amherst faculty, died yesterday at age 73. Her passing is a great loss for the entire campus family.

Lynn was best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges central tenets of neo-Darwinism. She was also cited for her contribution to the Gaia hypothesis, the concept that the Earth and its living beings function as a self-regulating system.

She leaves us a legacy of academic accomplishment brought about by her original thought and tireless inquiry into multiple field of science that look at how the world functions and how that magnificent world has developed over time.

Her scholarship earned an international reputation for her as a thinker and writer dealing with complicated ideas and complex theories. Her work brought numerous accolades and awards both to her and to UMass Amherst.

Lynn was appointed Distinguished University Professor in 1988 and was a member of the geosciences faculty at the time of her death. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, and received the National Medal of Science in 1999 from President Bill Clinton.

Her numerous awards and honors included the 2009 Darwin-Wallace Medal, awarded at 50-year intervals by the London-based Linnean Society for significant advances in the study of natural history and evolution. She also received the Nevada Medal, Sigma Xi’s William Proctor Prize, a NASA Public Service Award, the Miescher-Ishida Prize and the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques de France.

In 2009, she was among the seven honorees at the Faculty Convocation who received the Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity given to nationally recognized faculty members. She previously received the Chancellor?s Medal, the campus?s highest award for service.

As we observe Thanksgiving tomorrow, let us reflect on Lynn’s contributions to UMass Amherst and the quest for knowledge, for which we are grateful.

Thanks and RIP, Lynn Margulis.
Sagan L (1967). On the origin of mitosing cells Journal of theoretical biology, 14 (3), 255-74 PMID: 11541392