How has Lynn Margulis (Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love, Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature) for decades summoned the confidence to plow ahead with her groundbreaking evolutionary theories and scientific papers on symbiogenesis and endosymbiosis in the face of establishment opposition, scorn, and even ridicule? Easy. It’s because… well… she just knows she’s right.
“It wasn’t confidence; I just know I’m right — I mean, I really do know I’m right.”
On Wisconsin magazine profiles Professor Margulis and her scientific career, which spans nearly half a century, in their Fall 2009 issue:
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.
Margulis, photographed while attending the World Summit on Evolution in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands in 2005, asserts that we have neglected the earliest stages of evolution that preceded animals — a period that represents seven-eighths of the history of life on Earth. Photo: Laura Katz
Lynn Margulis MS’60 is one of those rare scientists whose research fundamentally altered the way we view the world — in this case, the way we view evolution. With blunt language, she batters humanity out of its self-image as the pinnacle of life.
“Man is the consummate egotist,” Margulis has written. “It may come as a blow to our collective ego, but we are not masters of life perched on the top rung of an evolutionary ladder.” Instead, she likes to say that “beneath our superficial differences, we are all of us walking communities of bacteria.”
Margulis is a leading proponent of an evolutionary concept called symbiogenesis — a hypothesis that states that new adaptations do not arise primarily from random mutations, but from the merging of two separate organisms to form a single new organism.
Symbiogenesis theory flies in the face of an accepted scientific dogma called neo-Darwinism, which holds that adaptations occur exclusively through random mutation, and that as genes mutate in unpredictable ways, their gradual accumulation sometimes results in useful attributes that give the organisms an advantage that eventually translates into evolutionary change.