Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair
Professor of Microbiology at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Molecular evolution of prokaryotes; structure-function of protein translation apparatus
In 1977, in collaboration with UI microbiologist Ralph S. Wolfe, Woese overturned one of the major dogmas of biology. Until then, all life on Earth belonged to one of two primary lineages, the eukaryotes (animals, plants, fungi and certain unicellular organisms such as paramecia) and the prokaryotes (all remaining microscopic organisms). The archaea -- microorganisms that live in extreme environments without oxygen in conditions thought to be reminiscent of Earth's early environment -- changed that long-accepted view.
Woese's molecular studies of RNA sequences led to the realization that the archaea were distinct from the two accepted classifications. His analytic approach has since become the standard for identifying and classifying microorganisms. Now three primary divisions of life are recognized: eukaryotes, archaea and bacteria.
His work over the last 5 years has centered on genomic analysis, with an emphasis on understanding the evolutionary significance of the phenomenon of horizontal gene transfer (HGT). This has involved in particular an in detail analysis of the phylogenies of the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases and the effect HGT has had upon the distribution of these key enzymes. The ultimate goal is to construct a model (theory) of how the primary cell types (the archaeal, eubacterial, and eukaryotic) have evolved, from some ancestral state in the RNA-world.
Crafoord Prize, 2003
Leeuwenhoek Medal, 1992 (from the Dutch Royal Academy of Science)
National Academy of Sciences, in 1988
"Genius" research award, 1984 (from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)
Woese, C. R. (2004) A New Biology for a New Century. MMBR. June 68(2):173-86.
Woese, C.R. (2002) On the evolution of cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99(13):8742-7.
Woese, C.R. (2001) Translation: in retrospect and prospect. RNA 7(8):1055-67.
Woese, C.R. (2000) Interpreting the universal phylogenetic tree. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97(15):8392-6.
Graham, D.E., Overbeek, R., Olsen, G.J., and Woese, C.R. (2000) An archaeal genomic signature. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97(7):3304-8.
Woese, C.R., Olsen, G.J., Ibba, M., and Soll, D. (2000) Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, the genetic code, and the evolutionary process. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 64(1):202-36.