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November 16, 2003

Lynn Margulis Elected Sigma Xi President

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC --Noted evolutionist Lynn Margulis at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was elected president-elect of Sigma Xi in November by the Assembly of Delegates.

She will begin serving as president-elect in July and succeed Francisco Ayala as president in July 2005.

Margulis developed the serial endosymbiosis theory, which proposes that mitochondria and chloroplasts originally evolved as bacteria and then merged with other cells in symbiotic unions. The cells of animals and plants evolved from ancient symbiotic associations that have successfully met the demands of life for over a billion years.

Her recent book, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species, written with Dorion Sagan, provides evidence that new species arise by symbiotic merger of genomes rather than only by random mutation.

Her only collaboration with James Lovelock on the Gaia Hypothesis is a natural result of his studies on atmospheric chemistry. "Gaia is more a point of view than a theory," says Margulis. "It is a manifestation of the organization of the planet."

The theory holds that life actively, though unknowingly, modifies its own environment in a way that increases its perpetuation. Thus the Gaia concept expresses the reality of Earth's interwoven associations into the fabric of life and environments.

Margulis earned a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1965. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she is a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She has received Sigma Xi's William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, a National Medal of Science and an Alexander von Humboldt Prize.

"The glory of Sigma Xi is its unambiguous dedication to its primary goal: to foster research," Margulis says. "The criterion of importance is that Sigma Xi members join fervently in research and practice science as a way of knowing."

As Sigma Xi president, she hopes to further the fundamental priority of the organization: to foster the results of original scientific research and to communicate them.

She sees the Society's magazine, American Scientist, as perhaps Sigma Xi's most crucial activity. Among many important issues to be illuminated are the degradation of the environment, correlated with human overpopulation and loss of non-human lives and the diminishment of diversity (environmental, biological and cultural).

 

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