Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis was a celebrated American Evolutionary Biologist
Javier Pedreira

Lynn Margulis was born March 5, 1938 to Leone and Morris Alexander in Chicago, Illinois. She was the oldest of four girls born to the homemaker and lawyer. Lynn took an early interest in her education, especially science classes. After only two years at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, she was accepted into the early entrant program at the University of Chicago at the young age of 14.

By the time Lynn was 19, she had acquired a B.A. of Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago. She then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin for graduate studies. In 1960, Lynn Margulis had obtained an M.S. in Genetics and Zoology and then went on to work at getting a Ph.D. in Genetics at the University of California, Berkeley. She ended up finishing her doctoral work at Brandeis University in Massachusetts in 1965.

Personal Life

While at the University of Chicago, Lynn met the now famous Physicist Carl Sagan while he was doing his graduate work in Physics at the college. They married shortly before Lynn finished her B.A. in 1957. They had two sons, Dorion and Jeremy. Lynn and Carl divorced before Lynn finished her Ph.D. work at the University of California, Berkeley. She and her sons moved to Massachusetts shortly thereafter.

In 1967, Lynn married the X-ray crystallographer Thomas Margulis after accepting a position as a lecturer at Boston College. Thomas and Lynn had two children—a son Zachary and a daughter Jennifer. They were married for 14 years before divorcing in 1981.

In 1988, Lynn took a position in the Botany department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There, she continued to lecture and write scientific papers and books over the years. Lynn Margulis passed away on November 22, 2011, after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a stroke.


While studying at the University of Chicago, Lynn Margulis first became interested in learning about cell structure and function. Particularly, Lynn wanted to learn as much as possible about genetics and how it related to the cell. During her graduate studies, she studied the non-Mendelian inheritance of cells. She hypothesized that there had to be DNA somewhere in the cell that wasn't in the nucleus due to some of the traits that were passed down to the next generation in plants that did not match the genes coded in the nucleus.

Lynn found DNA within both mitochondria and chloroplasts inside of plant cells that did not match the DNA in the nucleus. This led her to begin formulating her endosymbiotic theory of cells. These insights came under fire immediately, but have held up over the years and contributed significantly to the Theory of Evolution.

Most traditional evolutionary biologists believed, at the time, that competition was the cause of evolution. The idea of natural selection is based on the "survival of the fittest", meaning competition eliminates the weaker adaptations, generally caused by mutations. Lynn Margulis' endosymbiotic theory was the opposite. She proposed that cooperation between species led to the formation of new organs and other types of adaptations along with those mutations.

Lynn Margulis was so intrigued by the idea of symbiosis, she became a contributor to the Gaia hypothesis first proposed by James Lovelock. In short, the Gaia hypothesis asserts that everything on Earth—including life on land, the oceans, and the atmosphere—work together in a sort of symbiosis as if it were one living organism.

In 1983, Lynn Margulis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Other personal highlights include being the co-director of the Biology Planetary Internship Program for NASA and was awarded eight honorary doctorate degrees at various universities and colleges. In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of Science.

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Scoville, Heather. "Lynn Margulis." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Scoville, Heather. (2020, August 26). Lynn Margulis. Retrieved from Scoville, Heather. "Lynn Margulis." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).