Researchers pay tribute to ‘spokesperson for bacteria’ by naming some after her

Thanks for the phylum

Researchers pay tribute to ‘spokesperson for bacteria’ by naming some after her 

November 13, 2018

The late professor emeritus Lynn Margulis, biology, left a mark on the field of evolutionary biology, and that field turn has now offered a lasting and unusual addition to her legacy: a phylum of bacteria named after her.  


From “Late UMass biologist wins microorganic honor:” 

When evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis died in 2011, she was world-renowned in her field. Years later, her name continues to appear in that same field — and in the guts of termites. 

Last month, a research paper in a microbial ecology publication, The ISME Journal, featured a title that reads in part, “Genome analyses of uncultured TG2/ZB3 bacteria in ‘Margulisbacteria.’” The article dealt with bacteria in termite guts, and referenced a candidate phylum of bacteria named after the prominent University of Massachusetts Amherst biologist. 

As it turns out, a group of researchers in 2016 discovered 47 possible phylum-level bacterial lineages in an aquifer system and named one after Margulis. 

“I think it’s fantastic and totally appropriate,” said Margulis’ daughter, Jennifer, adding that she had no idea a phylum of bacteria had been named after her mother. “My mother used to say she was a spokesperson for bacteria and other microorganisms.” 

UMass lecturer Michael Dolan, Margulis’ former student, was the person who drew the Gazette’s attention to the newly named bacteria. He said the recent discovery of Margulisbacteria living in symbiosis with other bacteria in termite guts was appropriate, given that Margulis had spent many years studying that “evolutionary wonderland.” 

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