Carl Woese Papers, 1911-2013
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Brief Description:

Papers of Carl Woese (1928-2012), Professor of Microbiology (1964-2012), include correspondence (1962-2007), laboratory notes (1965-83), reprints (1954-2010), reprint requests (1966-75, 1989-90), dissertations by Woese students (1967-88) and award certificates, computer printouts, reports, drafts, notes, photographs, slides and transparencies (1911-2012) concerning microbiology, evolution, the genetic code, bacteria, translation, ribosomes, ribosomal RNA sequencing, bacterial taxonomy, discovery of Archaea, trees of life, origin of life, exobiology, Charles Darwin, the MacArthur Award, the Leeuwenhoek Medal, the Crafoord Prize, NASA (1977-92, 2005), the National Science Foundation (1976-93), the Office of Naval Research (1985-93), the Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Microbiology Department. Correspondents include William Balch, Mirko Beljanski, Richard Burkhardt, Francis Crick, Max Delbruck, W. Ford Doolittle, Volker Erdmann, Joe Felsenstein, George Fox, Stephen Jay Gould, Francois Gros, Robin Gutell, Harlyn Halvorson, Hyman Hartman, Otto Kandler, James Lake, Tom Langworthy, Peter Lengyel, Michael Madigan, Lynn Margulis, Alistair Matheson, Ernst Mayr, James McCloskey, Jacques Monod, R. G. E. Murray, Jacques Ninio, Norman Pace, Karl Popper, Carl Sagan, Jan Sapp, Tracy Sonneborn, Sol Spiegelman, Erko Stackebrandt, Roger Stanier, Karl Stetter, J. Craig Venter, Gunter Wachtershauser, Yuki Atsushi, Wolfram Zillig, and Emile Zuckerland.

This record series also contains 110.8 cubic feet of X-ray film showing ribosomal RNA patterns of hundreds of microrganisms.

Held at:
University of Illinois Archives
19 Library
1408 W. Gregory Dr.
Urbana, IL 61820
Phone: (217) 333-0798
Fax: (217) 333-2868
Email: illiarch [at]
Record Series Number: 15/15/22
Created by: Woese, Carl (1928-2012)
Volume: 143.8 cubic feet
Acquired: 01/15/2013.
More information is available at
Arrangement: Alphabetical by subject and chronological.
Biographical Note for Woese, Carl (1928-2012) :

Carl Woese (1928-2012), who revolutionized the science of microbiology, has been called â??the Darwin of the 20th century.â?? Darwinâ??s theory of evolution dealt with multicellular organisms; Woese brought the single-celled bacteria into the evolutionary fold. The Syracuse-born Woese began his early career as a newly minted Yale Ph.D. studying viruses but he soon joined in the global effort to crack the genetic code. His 1967 book The Genetic Code: The Molecular Basis for Genetic Expression became a standard in the field. Woese hoped to discover the evolutionary relationships of microorganisms, and he believed that an RNA molecule located within the ribosomeâ??the cellâ??s protein factoryâ??offered him a way to get at these connections.

A few years after becoming a professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois in 1964, Woese launched an ambitious sequencing program that would ultimately catalog partial ribosomal RNA sequences of hundreds of microorganisms. Woeseâ??s work showed that bacteria evolve, and his perfected RNA â??fingerprintingâ?? technique provided the first definitive means of classifying bacteria. In 1976, in the course of this painstaking cataloging effort, Woese came across a ribosomal RNA â??fingerprintâ?? from a strange methane-producing organism that did not look like the bacterial sequences he knew so well. As it turned out, Woese had discovered a third form of lifeâ??a form of life distinct from the bacteria and from the eukaryotes (organisms, like humans, whose cells have nuclei); he christened these creatures â??the archaebacteriaâ?? only to later rename them â??the archaeaâ?? to better differentiate them from the bacteria.

In 1980, four years after his discovery of the archaea, Woese unveiled the â??Big Treeâ??â??the first tree of life based entirely on ribosomal RNA data. Woeseâ??s tree attempted to trace the evolutionary relationships of the three forms of life going back to their divergence from a common ancestor over three billion years ago. Continuing to probe the origins of life for the rest of his career, Woese would help develop such seminal concepts as the RNA World and the progenoteâ??a hypothetical communal state of life predating the first cell. In 1990 Woese proposed that all life be grouped into three domains: the Archaea, the Bacteria, and the Eucarya. This idea met a great deal of resistance from many of his fellow biologists but is now largely enshrined in the textbooks. Carl Woese died on December 30, 2012, in Urbana, Illinois.

Access Restrictions: To protect the integrity of the Woese Papers, materials will be provided to researchers one folder at a time. Individual sheets of paper or other items will be counted by an Archives staff member before and after a folder is provided for examination.
Subject Index
American Society for Microbiology
Faculty Papers
Microbiology Department
Languages of Materials
English [eng]