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Lynn Margulis, 1938-2011

Chelsea Green is extremely saddened to announce the death of renowned evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis who died at her home on November 22 at the age of 73. Lynn and her son, Dorion Sagan, created Chelsea Green’s Sciencewriters Books imprint, which Chelsea Green launched in the fall of 2006 to develop outstanding works of science for the general public.

Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan were the founders of Sciencewriters, an educational partnership devoted to advancing science through enchantment in the form of the finest possible books, videos, and other media. Blending exciting writing with depth of knowledge and dedication to scientific integrity, Sciencewriters Books published new and established authors on cutting-edge topics that are key to our survival. Chelsea Green has published 8 books in the Sciencewriters Books imprint, including 3 books authored or co-authored by Margulis: Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love; Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature (with Dorion Sagan); and Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of our Time (with Eduardo Punset). The most recent Sciencewriters Book, The Mystery of Metamorphosis by Frank Ryan, was released in April, 2011 (for which Margulis wrote the foreword).

Lynn Margulis was best known for her theory of species evolution by symbiogenesis, put forth in Acquiring Genomes (co-authored with Dorion Sagan, 2002), which describes how speciation does not occur by random mutation alone but rather by symbiotic détente. Behavioral, chemical, and other interactions often lead to integration among organisms, members of different taxa. In well-documented cases some mergers create new species. Intimacy, physical contact of strangers, becomes part of the engine of life’s evolution that accelerates the process of change. Margulis worked in the laboratory and field with many other scientists and students to show how specific ancient partnerships, in a given order over a billion years, generated the cells of the species we see with our unaided eyes.The fossil record, in fact, does not show Darwin’s predicted gradual changes between closely related species but rather the “punctuated equilibrium” pattern described by Eldredge and Gould: a jump from one to a different species. She also co-developed the Gaia hypothesis with her friend James Lovelock, which describes how the earth acts like a self-regulating organism, not a dead piece of rock.

At the time of her death, Lynn Margulis was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She received the 1999 National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton and had been a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences since 1983 and of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences since 1997. In 2008 she received the very prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal, given every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London. Author, editor, or coauthor of chapters in more than forty books, she has published or been profiled in many journals, magazines, and books, among them Natural History, Science, Nature, New England Watershed, Scientific American, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science Firsts, and The Scientific 100. She has made numerous contributions to the primary scientific literature of microbial evolution and cell biology.

Lynn was a great and generous friend and advocate for many other scientists and students, fierce truth seeker, and passionate teacher and life force. Her loss is going to be felt around the world and in the scientific community for many years to come.

In lieu of flowers, friends may contribute to the Lynn Margulis Memorial Fund to support students to continue her scientific research. Checks may be sent directly to “Lynn Margulis Memorial Fund” at Northampton Cooperative Bank, PO Box 550, Amherst, MA 01004. A public celebration of her life is being scheduled for early in 2012.

Here are a few other articles about Lynn’s Passing:

New York Times obituary

SpaceRef.com “In Memorium”

John Horgan blog at Scientific American

Also an interview  with Lynn earlier this year: Discover Magazine interview


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