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Women of the Hall

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Year Honored: 1986
Birth: 1902 - Death: 1992
Born In: ,
Died In: ,
Achievements: Science
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Barbara McClintock

America's most distinguished cytogeneticist, Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford, Connecticut on June 16, 1902. After attending high school in New York City, she entered Cornell University in 1919 where she concentrated in plant breeding and botany in the College of Agriculture. Since the Plant Breeding department discouraged women from doing graduate work due to a lack of job prospects, she instead studied plant cytology, genetics and zoology in the Department of Botany and received her Ph.D. in 1927. She worked at Cornell and the University of Missouri until 1942, when she secured a research position with The Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor, New York. For the next 43 years, Dr. McClintock studied genetic mutations by examining changes in color and texture of the pigment in kernels and leaves of growing plants. In 1950, Dr. McClintock first reported in a scientific journal that genetic information could transpose from one chromosome to another. Many scientists assumed that this unorthodox view of genes was peculiar to the corn plant and was not universally applicable to all organisms. They believed that genes usually were held in place in the chromosome like a necklace of beads. Twenty years later, after many discoveries in molecular biology, scientists finally acknowledged Barbara McClintock's view of genes as universal, and in 1983 she received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her pioneering discovery of mobile genetic elements. Her work has assisted in the understanding of human disease. "Jumping genes" help explain how bacteria are able to develop resistance to an antibiotic and there is some indication that jumping genes are involved in the transformation of normal cells to cancerous cells.
Additional Sources:


Coe, Ed and Lee B. Kass. Proof of physical exchange of genes on the chromosomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 102 (No. 19, May): 6641-6656, 2005.

Comfort, Nathaniel C. The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock's Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Fedoroff, Nina and David Botstein, editors. The Dynamic Genome: Barbara McClintock's Ideas in the Century of Genetics. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1992.

Kass, Lee B. Records and recollections: A new look at Barbara McClintock, Nobel Prize-Winning geneticist. Genetics 164 (August): 1251-1260, 2003.

Kass, Lee B. 2000. McClintock, Barbara, American botanical geneticist, 1902-1992. Pp. 66-69, in Plant Sciences. Edited by R. Robinson. Macmillan Science Library, USA.

Kass, Lee B. and Christophe Bonneuil. Mapping and seeing: Barbara McClintock and the linking of genetics and cytology in maize genetics, 1928-1935. Ch. 5, pp. 91-118, in Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Jean-Paul Gaudilliere (eds.), Classical Genetic Research and its Legacy: The Mapping Cultures of 20th Century Genetics. London: Routledge, 2004.

Kass, Lee B., Chris Bonneuil, and Ed Coe. Cornfests, cornfabs and cooperation: The origins and beginnings of the Maize Genetics Cooperation News Letter. Genetics 169 (April): 1787-1797, 2005.

Keller, Evelyn Fox. A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. W.H. Freeman & Co., 1993.

The Discovery and Characterization of Transposable Elements: The Collected Papers of Barbara McClintock. (Genes, Cells, and Organisms, 17.) Garland Pub., 1987.