Stuart Kauffman is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth. Kauffman graduated from Dartmouth in 1960, was awarded the BA (Hons) by Oxford University (where he was a Marshall Scholar) in 1963, and completed a medical degree (MD) at the University of California, San Francisco in 1968. After completing his residency in Emergency Medicine, he moved into developmental genetics of the fruit fly, holding appointments first at the University of Chicago (1969-1973), National Cancer Institute (1973-1975), and then at the University of Pennsylvania (1975 to 1995), where he served as Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Kauffman held a MacArthur Fellowship (1987–1992), holds an Honorary Degree in Science from the University of Louvain, and was awarded a Gold Medal of the Accademia Lincea in Rome. Dr. Kauffman has published over 200 articles and 4 books: The Origins of Order (1993), At Home in the Universe (1995), Investigations (2000), Reinventing the Sacred (2008), and Humanity in a Creative Universe (2016).
Kauffman proposed the self-organized emergence of collectively autocatalytic sets of polymers, specifically peptides, for the origin of molecular reproduction. Reproducing peptide, DNA, and RNA collectively autocatalytic sets have now been made experimentally. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for applying models of Boolean networks to simplified genetic circuits. His hypotheses stating that cell types are attractors of such networks, and that genetic regulatory networks are “critical” have found experimental support. Kauffman rose to prominence through his association with the Santa Fe Institute (a non-profit research institute dedicated to the study of complex systems), where he was faculty in residence from 1986 to 1997, and through his work on models in various areas of biology. These included autocatalytic sets in origin of life research, gene regulatory networks in developmental biology, and fitness landscapes in evolutionary biology. Kauffman holds the founding broad biotechnology patents in combinatorial chemistry and applied molecular evolution.