Past Professor

Carl R. Woese

CAS Professor of Microbiology

Professor Woese is currently studying two interrelated central biological problems: the nature of the universal ancestor and the role of horizontal gene transfer in evolution. He is known for determining evolutionary relationships by molecular sequence comparisons, using the ribosomal RNA molecule. His work has opened the world of microorganism to evolutionary study and led to the discovery of Archaea, a domain of microorganism that is no more related to ordinary bacteria than it is to the higher forms. He is also responsible for determining (with H.F. Noller) the secondary structure of the two rRNA components of the ribosome, the cellular mechanism involved in the translation of genetic information into protein sequence.

For his work he has been honored by election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Sciences. He has received the ASM Lifetime Achievement Award; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Award; 1990 Leeuwenhoek Medal; Waksman Award; National Medal of Science; and Crafoord Prize in Biosciences, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1996 he was named the first recipient of the Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair at UIUC. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2004 and elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society in 2006. He is also a Professor in the University of Illinois Institute for Genomic Biology.

In The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (2018), a New York Times bestseller and longlist nominee for the National Book Award, author David Quammen presents “the grandest tale in biology” (Nature), including major players such as Carl Woese, the most important little-known biologist of the twentieth century.

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In memoriam