Barbara McClintock Biography

Barbara McClintock, a renowned American scientist, made groundbreaking contributions to the field of cytogenetics. Her theories on gene regulation and discovery of “jumping genes” revolutionized the scientific world. Despite facing challenges and a strained relationship with her mother, McClintock’s passion for genetics led her to embark on a lifelong journey in the field. Her achievements include devising techniques to observe chromosomes in maize, charting the first gene map, and making detailed analyses on the life cycle of Neurospora crassa. However, her most significant contribution was her theory on genetic regulation, which earned her a Nobel Prize. McClintock dedicated her entire life to scientific advancement and left a lasting impact on the sphere of genetics.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 90
  • Born Country: United States
  • Biologists
  • Geneticists
  • Died on: September 2, 1992
  • Place of death: Huntington, New York, United States
  • U.S. State: Connecticut
  • Education: 1927 – Cornell University, Erasmus Hall High School, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Awards:
    • 1983 – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
    • 1981 – Wolf Prize in Medicine
    • 1981 – Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
    • 1981 – MacArthur Fellowship – Molecular Biology and Genetics
    • 1982 – Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
    • 1933 – Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences US & Canada
    • 1971 – National Medal of Science for Biological Sciences

Childhood & Early Life

Barbara McClintock, born on June 16, 1902, in Connecticut, spent her early childhood in New York while her father worked as a physician. She attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn after her family moved there in 1908. It was during this time that she developed a passion for science. After completing high school in 1919, she pursued higher education at Cornell University.

Education and Early Career

At Cornell University’s College of Agriculture, McClintock studied genetics under the guidance of botanist Claude B. Hutchinson. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Botany in 1923 and went on to complete her post-graduation, receiving an MA in Botany. For her doctoral dissertation, she conducted research on the structure and functionality of chromosomes in maize. Under the guidance of botanists Lowell Fitz Randolph and Lester W. Sharp, she earned her Ph.D. in 1927.

Career and Contributions

McClintock continued her study of chromosomal behavior in maize during meiosis and made significant contributions to the field of genetics. In 1930-31, she explained the concept of chromosomal cross-over and provided scientific proof of its role in genetic recombination. She also created the first genetic map for maize in 1931 and demonstrated that chromosomal cross-over occurs in both homologous chromosomes and sister chromatids.

She conducted further research on genetics using X-rays as a mutagen and studied the effects of radiation on chromosomal behavior. In 1936, she joined the University of Missouri as an Assistant Professor in Botany and made a breakthrough in the field of cytogenetics by charting the structure and functionality of centromeres.

Later Career and Legacy

Unsatisfied with her position at the University of Missouri, McClintock accepted a visiting faculty position at Columbia University in 1941. Later that year, she joined the Carnegie Institution in Washington and conducted her research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She made extensive studies on the species Neurospora crassa and its life cycle.

Throughout her career, McClintock made significant discoveries regarding gene regulation and transposition. In the 1960s, her work received recognition as other scientists arrived at similar conclusions through independent studies. She was named scientist emeritus at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in 1967 and continued her research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory until her retirement.

Major Works and Awards

McClintock’s work on controlling units and gene regulation paved the way for future discoveries in cytogenetics. Her discoveries regarding transposable elements on DNA and genetic mutation earned her the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1983. She also received the National Medal of Science in 1970 and the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal from the Genetics Society of America in 1981.

Personal Life and Legacy

Barbara McClintock dedicated her life to her work and never married. She passed away on September 2, 1992, in New York. She is remembered as an outstanding scientist and has been honored with a laboratory in Carnegie University of Washington and a street in a science park in Berlin.

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