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Upcoming symposium will honor Carl R. Woese, discoverer of life's Third Domain

Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology hosts symposium to mark renaming of institute, showcase historical and modern research directions

Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Looking in the Right Direction: Carl Woese and the New Biology, to be held on September 19-20, 2015, will celebrate the work of this renowned scientist by showcasing some of the most exciting up-and-coming advances in genomic biology, and will commemorate renaming the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) in his honor.

Held at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the campus of the University of Illinois, this symposium will highlight modern research directions in genomic biology that have been inspired or impacted by Carl Woese's work and ideas, encompassing the fields of microbiology, evolution and even synthetic biology. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies Penny Chisholm, one of the world's foremost experts on marine microbiology, will deliver a public lecture called "Tiny Cells, Global Impact: A Journey of Discovery with a Microbe from the Sea" on Friday night, September 18, 2015.

Woese was the first scientist to map out the evolutionary history of all life on Earth. In so doing, he not only showed that all known life is related and descended from a common ancestral state, but he also overturned one of the major dogmas of biology with his discovery of the Archaea, the third Domain of life. Woese's work pioneered the use of molecular sequences to identify organisms, and was an early forerunner of today's genomic biology, with many extensions that are revolutionizing microbiology, ecology and health sciences. As a memorial to his legacy, the IGB was officially renamed the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology in 2014.

"Carl Woese once quipped that he saw further than others because he was looking in the right direction," said Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund Professor of Physics and leader of the Biocomplexity research theme at the IGB. "He taught us how to look backwards in time, to see the earliest life on this planet. But he never stopped looking forwards either, to the future of biology. This symposium has an A-list of some of the most creative and important people in today's fields of evolutionary ecology and microbiology. It would delight Carl."

Distinguished speakers include:

  • Colleen Cavanaugh, Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology, Harvard University
  • Jim Collins, Termeer Professor of Bioengineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • George Fox, Professor of Biology and Biochemstry, University of Houston
  • Larry Gold, Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado Boulder, Chairman and Founder of SomaLogic
  • Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund Professor of Physics, University of Illinois
  • Simonetta Gribaldo, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
  • Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (tentative)
  • Rob Knight, Professor, BioFrontiers Institute, Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder (tentative)
  • Harris Lewin, Robert and Rosabel Osborne Endowed Chair, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of California, Davis
  • Zan Luthey-Schulten, William and Janet Lycan Professor of Chemistry, University of Illinois
  • Gary Olsen, Professor of Microbiology, University of Illinois
  • Norman Pace, Distinguished Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Larry Smarr, Harry E. Gruber Professor, Founding Director California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), University of California, San Diego
  • Mitch Sogin, MBL Distinguished Scientist and Professor of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, Brown University
  • Rachel Whitaker, Associate Professor of Microbiology, University of Illinois

"As a founding member of the IGB, Carl Woese laid the foundation for a pioneering research facility with four cornerstones: service to society, educational outreach, transdisciplinary collaboration, and cutting-edge research," said IGB Director Gene Robinson, Swanlund Chair Professor of Entomology. "Now named in his honor, our Institute will continue to reach new heights, building upon his legacy."


For more information about the symposium, and to register, please visit: Registration is free and open to the public.

Learn more about Woese and his distinguished career at

The Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology is an interdisciplinary research facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, advancing life sciences research related to health, agriculture, energy and the environment. Learn more at

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