The 2003 Crafoord Prize has been awarded to Carl R. Woese, professor of Microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "for his discovery of a third domain of life."

Until Woese — who describes himself as a molecular biologist turned evolutionist — discovered otherwise, the paradigm stated that there were two domains of life: the prokaryotes which lack a cell nucleus (e.g. the bacteria), and the eukaryotes which have genetic material organized into a nucleus (the protists, fungi, plants, and animals). Woese overturned this view through the comparative sequence analysis of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) from many different microorganisms.

Analysis of rRNA showed that within the prokaryotes there existed an evolutionarily distinct group — the Archaea (previously termed the Archaeabacteria). These organisms are similar to prokaryotes cytologically, but are in fact more closely related to the eukaryotes. And since both the Archaea and Bacteria have existed for most of...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?