Carl Woese

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Carl Richard Woese (pronounced /ˈwoʊz/;[1] born 15 July 1928, Syracuse, New York) is an American microbiologist and physicist. Woese is famous for defining the Archaea (a new domain or kingdom of life) in 1977 by phylogenetic taxonomy of 16S ribosomal RNA, a technique pioneered by Woese and which is now standard practice.[2][3][4] He was also the originator of the RNA world hypothesis in 1977, although not by that name. He currently holds the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair and is professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Contents

Life and education

Woese attended Deerfield Academy. He received a bachelors in math and physics from Amherst College in 1950 and a doctorate in biophysics from Yale University in 1953.[5] Woese joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1964.[6]

Work and discoveries

Having defined Archaea as a new domain, Woese redrew the taxonomic tree. His three-domain system, based upon genetic relationships rather than obvious morphological similarities, divided life into 23 main divisions, all incorporated within three domains: Bacteria, Archaea, and Eucarya. Archaea are neither Bacteria nor Eukaryotes. Looked at another way, they are Prokaryotes that are not Bacteria.

The tree of life elucidated by Woese is noteworthy for its demonstration of the overwhelming diversity of microbial lineages; single-celled organisms represent the vast majority of the biosphere's genetic, metabolic, and ecosystem niche diversity. This is surprising to some, given our familiarity with the macrobiological world. As microbes are responsible for many biogeochemical cycles and are crucial to the continued function of the biosphere, Woese's efforts to clarify the evolution and diversity of microbes provided an invaluable service to ecologists and conservationists.

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