Carl Woese

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Carl Woese, 2004

Carl Richard Woese ([ woʊz ]; born July 15, 1928 in Syracuse , New York , † December 30, 2012 in Urbana , Illinois ) was an American microbiologist and evolutionary biologist . He became known for his work on the evolution of the cell organization of bacteria and archaea, genetic phylogenesis and the introduction of the archaea as a new domain alongside bacteria and eukaryotes. In 1967 he proposed the priority of RNA over DNA, a theory that Walter Gilbert took up in 1986 and became known as the RNA World Hypothesis .


In 1950 he graduated from Amherst College with a BA in Mathematics and Physics. In 1953 he received his PhD in biophysics from Yale University . From 1953 to 1960 he worked as a postdoc in biophysics at Yale University.

From 1960 to 1963 he worked as a biophysicist at the General Electric Research Laboratory, then at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Since 1964, Woese was Professor of Microbiology at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign .

3-domain model

Phylogenetic tree based on rRNA genes

In 1990, Carl Woese and Otto Kandler proposed to discard the 3-realm and 5-realm models in favor of a 3- domain model: the domains of bacteria, archaea and eukarya. By introducing the new domain of the archaea, they changed the basis of the evolutionary family tree . Woeses phylogenetic taxonomy is based on genetic investigations (comparative sequence analysis of ribosomal 16S rRNA from many different microorganisms) in contrast to the previous classification according to phenotypic differences. The more similar their rRNA sequences, the more closely related organisms are. This earned him a lot of criticism, including from famous biologists such as Salvador Luria and Ernst Mayr . It is not without reason that Science magazine called Woese “Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary” (the scarred revolutionary in microbiology). But the growing body of supporting data led the scientific community to accept the archaea as a domain.

Horizontal gene transfer, Darwin's threshold

According to Woese, at the beginning of life, the organisms freely exchanged their genes in a shared gene pool ( horizontal gene transfer ) without speciation . This free exchange of genetic innovations was the driving force behind early cell evolution. Darwin's idea of ​​common descent from a primordial cell is thus invalid. With the increasing complexity of the organisms, gene transfer became more problematic; the genes were increasingly passed on exclusively to the direct offspring (vertical gene transfer). Woese called this transition the “Darwinian Threshold” . Since the transition was fluid, the family tree is a network near the roots, with varying results for the root, depending on the genetic material considered.



Web links

Commons : Carl Woese  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Visionary UI biologist Carl Woese, 84, dies. In: December 30, 2012, accessed December 15, 2017 .
  2. ^ Carl R. Woese, Otto Kandler, Mark L. Wheelis: Towards a natural system of organisms: Proposal for the domains Archaea, Bacteria and Eucarya . In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . tape 87 , no. 12 , 1990, pp. 4576–4579 , doi : 10.1073 / pnas.87.12.4576 ( [PDF]).
  3. Ernst Mayr: Two empires or three? PNAS, 1998, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.95.17.9720 (free full text).
  4. ^ Carl R. Woese: Default taxonomy: Ernst Mayr's view of the microbial world. PNAS, 1998, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.95.19.11043 (free full text).
  5. Virginia Morell: Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary. Science 276, 1997, doi: 10.1126 / science.276.5313.699 .
  6. Jonathan M .: “Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary”: Carl Woese, RIP. Evolution News, 2013.
  7. ^ CR Woese: On the evolution of cells . In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . tape 99 , no. 13 , June 2002, p. 8742-8747 , doi : 10.1073 / pnas.132266999 ( [PDF]).
  8. ^ Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology. National Academy of Sciences , accessed December 15, 2017 .
  9. ^ Member History: Carl R. Woese. American Philosophical Society, accessed December 11, 2018 .