MacArthur Fellows Program

Carl R. Woese

Molecular Biologist | Class of March 1984

Molecular Biologist
Urbana, Illinois
56 at time of award
December 30, 2012
Published March 1, 1984

About Carl's Work

Carl Woese was a biologist who studied the evolution of microorganisms and the origins of life.

Woese was the first to develop a technology capable of determining evolutionary relationships among all prokaryotes.  The result was the identification of archaebacteria as the so-called “third form of life,” completing the first universal phylogenetic tree relating all extant life.  Using ribosomal RNA sequence as an evolutionary measure, his laboratory provided a phylogenetically valid system of classification for prokaryotes; the revised classification of the archaebacteria was a product of these studies.  His research later focused on defining ancestral gene families, determining the evolution of cellular translation, and tracing the origin of the genetic code.


Woese held the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair in Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where was on the faculty from 1964, and was appointed to the UI Center for Advanced Study in 1989.  He was the author of numerous scientific articles published in such journals as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Systematic and Applied Microbiology, Science, and Nature.

Woese received an A.B. (1950) from Amherst College and a Ph.D. (1953) from Yale University. 

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of Carl R. Woese
August 13, 2018
"The Scientist Who Scrambled Darwin’s Tree of Life"
The New York Times
Carl R. Woese , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
April 30, 2014
"The Man Who Rewrote the Tree of Life"
Nova Next
Carl R. Woese , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
January 19, 2013
"Carl Woese Dies; Evolutionary Biologist was 84"
The Washington Post
Carl R. Woese , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
December 31, 2012
"Carl Woese Dies at 84; Discovered Life’s ‘Third Domain’"
The New York Times
Carl R. Woese , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
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