Lynn Margulis


American Author, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst known for Theory on the Origin of Eukaryotic Organelles or Endosymbiotic Theory, William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement

Author Quotes

By "codifying ignorance" I refer in part to the fact that they miss four out of the five kingdoms of life. Animals are only one of these kingdoms. They miss bacteria, protoctista, fungi, and plants. They take a small and interesting chapter in the book of evolution and extrapolate it into the entire encyclopedia of life. Skewed and limited in their perspective, they are not wrong so much as grossly uninformed. Of what are they ignorant? Chemistry, primarily, because the language of evolutionary biology is the language of chemistry, and most of them ignore chemistry. I don't want to lump them all together, because, first of all, Gould and Eldredge have found out very clearly that gradual evolutionary changes through time, expected by Darwin to be documented in the fossil record, are not the way it happened. Fossil morphologies persist for long periods of time, and after stasis, discontinuities are observed. I don't think these observations are even debatable. John Maynard Smith, an engineer by training, knows much of his biology secondhand. He seldom deals with live organisms. He computes and he reads. I suspect that it's very hard for him to have insight into any group of organisms when he does not deal with them directly. Biologists, especially, need direct sensory communication with the live beings they study and about which they write. Reconstructing evolutionary history through fossils ? paleontology ? is a valid approach, in my opinion, but paleontologists must work simultaneously with modern-counterpart organisms and with "neontologists" ? that is, biologists. Gould, Eldredge, and Lewontin have made very valuable contributions. But the Dawkins-Williams-Maynard Smith tradition emerges from a history that I doubt they see in its Anglophone social context. Darwin claimed that populations of organisms change gradually through time as their members are weeded out, which is his basic idea of evolution through natural selection. Mendel, who developed the rules for genetic traits passing from one generation to another, made it very clear that while those traits reassert, they don't change over time. A white flower mated to a red flower has pink offspring, and if that pink flower is crossed with another pink flower the offspring that result are just as red or just as white or just as pink as the original parent or grandparent. Species of organisms, Mendel insisted, don't change through time. The mixture or blending that produced the pink is superficial. The genes are simply shuffled around to come out in different combinations, but those same combinations generate exactly the same types. Mendel's observations are incontrovertible.

New mutations don't create new species; they create offspring that are impaired.

Despite our very recent appearance on the planet, humanity combines arrogance with increasing material demands, even as we become more numerous. Our toughness is a delusion. Have we the intelligence and discipline to vigilantly guard against our tendency to grow without limit?

Of course, the plea for respect for nonhuman life goes far beyond the scientific delight of familiarity with our planet mates. The nonhuman forms of life with which we 6,000 million talking, upright apes share this finite planet are directly or indirectly connected to our well-being.

Everybody knows what a caterpillar is, and it doesn't look anything like a butterfly.

People say I am against Darwin. That is ridiculous.

For more than a billion years, the only life on this planet consisted of bacterial cells, which, lacking nuclei, are called prokaryotes, or prokaryotic cells. They looked very much alike, and from the human-centered vantage point seem boring. However, bacteria are the source of reproduction, photosynthesis, movement ? indeed, all interesting features of life except perhaps speech! They're still with us in large diversity and numbers. They still rule Earth. At some point, a new more complex kind of cell appeared on the scene, the eukaryotic cell, of which plant and animal bodies are composed. These cells contain certain organelles, including nuclei. Eukaryotic cells with an individuated nucleus are the building blocks of all familiar large forms of life. How did that evolution revolution occur? How did the eukaryotic cell appear? Probably it was an invasion of predators, at the outset. It may have started when one sort of squirming bacterium invaded another ? seeking food, of course. But certain invasions evolved into truces; associations once ferocious became benign. When swimming bacterial would-be invaders took up residence inside their sluggish hosts, this joining of forces created a new whole that was, in effect, far greater than the sum of its parts: faster swimmers capable of moving large numbers of genes evolved. Some of these newcomers were uniquely competent in the evolutionary struggle. Further bacterial associations were added on, as the modern cell evolved. One kind of evidence in favor of symbiogenesis in cell origins is mitochondria, the organelles inside most eukaryotic cells, which have their own separate DNA. In addition to the nuclear DNA, which is the human genome, each of us also has mitochondrial DNA. Our mitochondria, a completely different lineage, are inherited only from our mothers. None of our mitochondrial DNA comes from our fathers. Thus, in every fungus, animal, or plant (and in most protoctists), at least two distinct genealogies exist side by side. That, in itself, is a clue that at some point these organelles were distinct microorganisms that joined forces.

People think the earth is going to die and they have to save it. That's ridiculous. If you rid the earth of flowering plants, people would die, period. But the earth was without flowering plants for almost all of its history.

Gaia is a tough bitch ? a system that has worked for over three billion years without people. This planet's surface and its atmosphere and environment will continue to evolve long after people and prejudice are gone.

Politicians need a better understanding of global ecology. We need to be freed from our species-specific arrogance. No evidence exists that we are 'chosen', the unique species for which all the others were made. Nor are we the most important one because we are so numerous, powerful and dangerous.

If science doesn't fit in with the cultural milieu, people dismiss science, they never reject their cultural milieu! If we are involved in science of which some aspects are not commensurate with the cultural milieu, then we are told that our science is flawed. I suspect that all people have cultural concepts into which science must fit. Although I try to recognize these biases in myself, I'm sure I cannot entirely avoid them. I try to focus on the direct observational aspects of science.

So J.B.S. Haldane, without a doubt a brilliant person, and R.A. Fisher, a mathematician, generated an entire school of English-speaking evolutionists, as they developed the neo- Darwinist population-genetic analysis to reconcile two unreconcilable views: Darwin's evolutionary view with Mendel's pragmatic, anti-evolutionary concept. They invented a language of population genetics in the 1920s to 1950s called neo-Darwinism, to rationalize these two fields. They mathematized their work and began to believe in it, spreading the word widely in Great Britain, the United States, and beyond. France and other countries resisted neo-Darwinism, but some Japanese and other investigators joined in the "explanation" activity.

If you really want to study evolution, you've got go outside sometime, because you'll see symbiosis everywhere!

The fewer species there are and the fewer species we know about, the fewer questions we even know to ask.

It took me days of conversation even to begin to understand Lovelock's thinking. My first response, just like that of the neo-Darwinists, was "business as usual." I would say, "Oh, you mean that organisms adapt to their environment." He would respond, very sweetly, "No, I don't mean that." Lovelock kept telling me what he really meant, and it was hard for me to listen. Since his was a new idea, he hadn't yet developed an appropriate vocabulary. Perhaps I helped him work out his explanations, but I did very little else.

The Gaia hypothesis is a biological idea, but it's not human-centered. Those who want Gaia to be an Earth goddess for a cuddly, furry human environment find no solace in it. They tend to be critical or to misunderstand. They can buy into the theory only by misinterpreting it. Some critics are worried that the Gaia hypothesis says the environment will respond to any insults done to it and the natural systems will take care of the problems. This, they maintain, gives industries a license to pollute. Yes, Gaia will take care of itself; yes, environmental excesses will be ameliorated, but it's likely that such restoration of the environment will occur in a world devoid of people.

[History will ultimately judge neo-Darwinism as ] a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology.

Life learned early on to recognize itself.

The Gaia hypothesis states that the temperature of the planet, the oxidation state and other chemistry of all of the gases of the lower atmosphere (except helium, argon, and other nonreactive ones) are produced and maintained by the sum of life. We explored how this could be. How could the temperature of the planet be regulated by living beings? How could the atmospheric gas composition ? the 20-percent oxygen and the one to two parts per million methane, for example ? be actively maintained by living matter?

All I ask is that we compare human consciousness with spirochete ecology.

Life on earth is more like a verb. It repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.

The urgency to mate persists in all people as in all other mammals because of the evolutionary drive to continue the species, the inborn imperative for genes to reproduce and hormonal differences that evolved over millions of years.

All living beings, not just animals, but plants and microorganisms, perceive. To survive, an organic being must perceive - it must seek, or at least recognize, food and avoid environmental danger.

Life on earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning... Beneath our superficial differences we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings.

There is no scientific reason to think that we, even with space travel, are going to survive as a species forever, certainly not by biting off the hand that feeds us, which is exactly what we are doing.

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American Author, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst known for Theory on the Origin of Eukaryotic Organelles or Endosymbiotic Theory, William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement