Chicago, 1938 – Amherst, 2011
As an evolutionary biologist and microbiologist, Lynn Margulis is considered to be one of the most stimulating and original thinkers of her generation. She dedicated her entire life to studying the microcosms of the smallest organisms on Earth. She was a PhD in Genetics at the University of Berkeley (California), professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, and coordinator of NASA’s Department of Planetary Biology.
Margulis’ great contribution was the formulation and dissemination of the theory of endosymbiosis, according to which eukaryotic cells (the building blocks from which living beings are made) are literally an amalgam of diverse bacterial cells. In contrast to the generally-accepted view of survival-of-the-fittest, Margulis proposed a new paradigm that identified cooperation and association as decisive factors in the evolution of organisms. This approach, at the time going against much of the scientific community, represented a fundamental change in our understanding of the evolution of species and is now fully accepted. Margulis revived the theories of largely forgotten authors, such as Konstantin Mereschkowski and Boris Kozo-Polyansky, enriched and completed them, and became a key figure in spreading these ideas and their subsequent general acceptance.
Lynn Margulis, who considered herself a teacher above all, taught and inspired countless students and tirelessly pursued outreach activity all over the world, giving lectures and seminars, and also as a prolific author and co-author of hundreds of scientific articles, books, and videos. This American microbiologist had a very special relationship with our country, where she collaborated with several universities and undertook important research projects. Something of her scientific legacy is preserved in the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona.