Carl Woese (born July 15, 1928) is an American microbiologist famous for defining the Archaea (a new domain or kingdom of life) in 1977 by phylogenetic analysis of 16S ribosomal RNA, a technique pioneered by Woese and which is now standard practice. He was also the originator of the RNA world hypothesis in 1967, although not by name. He was born in Syracuse, New York.
The acceptance of the validity of the Archaea, which are prokaryotes but not Bacteria, was a slow and painful process. Such famous figures as Salvador Luria and Ernst Mayr objected to his division of the prokaryotes, and not all criticism of him was restricted to the scientific level. Not without reason has Woese been dubbed "Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary" by the journal Science. Yet, the growing amount of supporting data led the scientific community in general to accept the Archaea by the mid 1980s.
He also conjectured an era before Darwinian evolution where genes were freely shared between organisms. Species formed when they ceased to share. This period was responsible for the fast, early evolution of complex biological structures.
Woese was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, received the Leeuwenhoek medal (microbiology's highest honor) in 1992, and was a National Medal of Science recipient in 2000. In 2003, he received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Woese is currently a professor of Microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Last updated: 08-26-2005 20:36:09