Another Formidable Woman – Barbara McClintock 1902 – 1992

Barbara McClintock, 1902-1992

Today, I would like to recognize another formidable woman, Barbara McClintock, American scientist and cytogeneticist (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992). Let us give some thought to her accomplishments, for which she was rewarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983. She said in her acceptance speech: “The [Nobel] Prize is such an extraordinary honor. It might seem unfair, however, to reward a person for having so much pleasure over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.” McClintock received her PhD in botany from Cornell University in 1927, then proceeded to dedicate her life to the study of maize cytogenetics, becoming a leader in the establishment of that field. She produced the first genetic map for maize and developed the technique for visualizing maize chromosomes. She used microscopic analysis to demonstrate many fundamental genetic ideas, one of which was the mechanism by which chromosomes exchange information, linking regions of the chromosome to physical traits, fundamental in all living organism.

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Barbara was recognized as being one of the best in the field, and was awarded prestigious fellowships as a result of her work. In 1944, she was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. Despite her accomplishments, however, she was faced with opposition when she demonstrated that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off. McClintock’s research did not become well understood until the 1960s and more so in the 1970s, as other scientists confirmed the mechanisms of genetic change and genetic regulation that she had originally validated in her maize research.

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I applaud this woman’s genius for breaking through the glass ceiling erected by the male bastions of scientific research. She deserves to have a monument raised in her name for her perseverance, her wisdom, and for her courage to tell the world that the mechanism of genetic regulation and genetic change found in a plant applies to all living beings, including in the human species.

Kudos to you, Barbara McClintock, wherever you are among your angels!

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