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Lynn Margulis (1938-2011) truth straight on: reflections on the vision and spirit of Lynn Margulis.

With this issue of The Biological Bulletin, the symbiosis community celebrates the life of Lynn Margulis, who died this past year on November 22, 2011. The issue describes how the study of symbiotic associations has been transformed by various technological breakthroughs. While these advances have enabled our community, the conceptual underpinnings for our studies bear the indelible mark of the pioneering leadership of Lynn. Her strong influence has been critical for development in three major arenas: the prevalence of symbiosis as a driving force in evolution of eukaryotes, the central role of the microbial world in the dynamics of the past and present biosphere, and the recognition that the earth is a self-regulating system, that is, the Gaia hypothesis.

For the last 20+ years of her life, Lynn had been on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts--Amherst. She lived next door to the house where Emily Dickinson had spent her years writing volumes of poetry, and Lynn was a great fan of the Belle of Amherst. She often used Dickinson poems in her writings. One of her favorites was "Tell All the Truth":


  Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant--
  Success in Circuit lies
  Too bright for our infirm Delight
  The Truth's superb surprise

  Emily Dickinson
  (American Poet, 1830-1886)

That this poem would resonant with Lynn is remarkable and ironic. A controversial figure throughout her career, Lynn always presented her view of the world without filters. Her theories on science did not come to the listener or observer at a "slant," but rather straight on. Her ideas were most often far ahead of their time, not fitting comfortably into accepted wisdom. Instead of being discouraged by naysayers, she was energized by the heat of the associated criticism. Each of the aforementioned ideas was first viewed with considerable cynicism and disregard, but all are now considered to be critical dogma in biology.

Lynn's courage and grace in the face of considerable opposition was contagious, particularly for junior scientists. Unlike many who gain notoriety, Lynn always had time to interact with students. Many faculty members at the most prestigious universities in the world worked with Lynn at the very onset of their careers. We did not lose a leader. Lynn is and always will be the principal pioneer of our field. While we will not have Lynn's physical presence to guide us and challenge our ideas, for many of us, her philosophy will continue to shape our thoughts and influence our work. We will carry her influence on our thinking all the days of our lives.

Thank you, Lynn, for laying the foundation for the field of symbiosis. May we in the community of symbiosis researchers have the fortitude to fight for ideas we believe to hold truth.

--Margaret McFall-Ngai

University of Wisconsin--Madison

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Author:McFall-Ngai, Margaret
Publication:The Biological Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2012
Words:463
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