Nobel Women

barbara mcclintock
Associated Press

Barbara McClintock, 1983 Winner of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

October 14, 2009
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Barbara McClintock was the recipient of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of transposons or “jumping genes.”

McClintock’s work on transposable elements in genetics led to the revolutionary idea that the genome of an organism is not stationary, but subject to alterations and rearrangements both within chromosomes and between them, Nature Education explains.

McClintock was born in 1902 in Hartford, Conn., and moved with her family to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1908. By 1927, she had completed a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctorate in botany at Cornell University. She had also become highly influential among a select group that concentrated on the study of maize cytogenetics, the cellular analysis of genetic phenomena in corn.

In 1936, McClintock obtained a position as an assistant professor for the influential maize geneticist, Lewis Stadler, at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Next she moved on to work as a researcher at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Genetics, with which she remained affiliated until her death in 1992.

During her long and proficient career, McClintock concentrated primarily on cytogenetics, discovering innovative techniques that led her to uncover transposable elements (TEs) in genetics. She conducted a number of genetic breeding experiments using maize plants, and concluded that certain genes were responsible for the suppression or expression of particular genetic information from one generation to another.

This suggestion, together with the notion that genes could mutate or rearrange themselves within or between chromosomes, defied what was known about genetics at the time, and was met with skepticism. Eventually, McClintock’s work came to be widely appreciated, earning her many awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1971 and the Nobel Prize in 1983.

For a complete autobiography, visit Barbara McClintock’s page on the Nobel Foundation Web site.

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