Science Women | Barbara McClintock

 

Barbara McClintock was born June 16, 1902 in Hartford, Connecticut. During high school she developed a love of science and determined to continue her studies at Cornell University studying agriculture, and in 1923, she received her BS in botany.included

McClintock took her first genetics course in 1921 and was invited by the course instructor to continue studying genetics at Cornell in their graduate program, earning her MS in 1925 and PhD in 1927. During her studies and thereafter, she was instrumental in the field of cytogenetics being studied in maize.

Most of McClintock’s cytogenetic research involved maize chromosomes, and how to visualize and characterize them. It was during this time she developed a techniques to visualize the chromosomes, using carmine. This technique showed the morphology of the 10 maize chromosomes for the first time.

In 1930, McClintock and a colleague observed chromosomal recombination under a microscope and in 1931, published the first genetic map showing the order of three maize genes on chromosomes. She was awarded many postdoctora fellowships for her research and allowed her to continue her research at Cornell.

In 1936, after studying in Germany, McClintock accepted an Assistant Professorship at the University of Missouri-Columbia. While at the University of Missouri, McClintock studied the breakage and fusion of chromosomes, the “breakage-rejoining-bridge” cycle is still studied today in cancer research. In 1941, she left Missouri and accepted a position with Columbia University and at the end of that year she acepted a research position at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory. In 1944, McClintock became the third woman to be elected into the National Academy of Sciences, as well as becoming the first female president for the Genetics Society of America.

Though she received many awards and accolades throughout her career, most notable were the National Medal of Science from Richard Nixon in 1970, which she was the first woman to receive, and the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for discovering “mobile genetic elements,” and in 1986 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Barbara McClintock died on September 2, 1992.