Monday, June 24, 2013

Barbara McClintock : A Biography

by valzaby, This post originally appeared at Future Science Leaders.

Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and a world-renowned cytogeneticist was born in 1902 in Connecticut and moved to New York with her family in 1908.  She received her PhD in botany in 1927, in Cornell University and after that began her career in maize cytogenetics, the study of inheritance as relating to chromosomes in corn.

images (1)In the 30s, she was part of a postdoctoral fellowship in the National Research Council and     in the Guggenheim Foundation, and was thus able to do genetic research in institutions all over the USA (Cornell, University of Missouri, CIT and others). She even spent 6 months conduction research in Germany, until pre-WW2 tensions began arising.  In 1936 she became an assistant professor at the University of Missouri to corn geneticist Lewis Stadler, but eventually left her job. In 1941 she accepted a one-year research position at the Carnegie Institution on Long Island, New York, but soon gained a full-time position and conducted research for 26 years.  After retiring from this institution with a Distinguished Service Award, she joined the Cold Spring Harbor Lab as a researcher and was affiliated with the lab until 1992, the year she died at the age of 90.
To study the change in chromosomes during reproduction, she developed techniques to visualize these microscopic entities and was able to show genetic ideas through microscopic analysis.  In essence, she was able to show mechanisms of reproduction such as genetic recombination during meiosis, when chromosomes cross-over and exchange genetic information. She also created a genetic map of corn, that was able to show which genes were responsible for which physical traits and she was able to show ­­­­­­explained how genes are able to turn certain physical traits on and off. This resulted in her coming up with theories that explained suppression and expression of certain traits in different generation of corn.
In 1953 her research received a lot of criticism and she was forced to stop publishing her data in official journals. But as other scientists began to better understand genetic change and regulation in the 60s and 70s, her research was confirmed. In 1957 she was funded by the National Science Foundation to study varieties of maize in South and Central America. So she began travelling all over the country and collection samples for genetic analysis of mutations and evolutionary change.  She published her data in 1981 as “The Chromosomal Constitution of Races of Maize”.                                                            

In 1983 she received a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her contributions to this field in discovering genetic transposition. Through-out her career she has also received the National Medal of Science, the MacArthuer Foundation Grant, the Albert and Mary Lasker Award and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences as well as became the president of the Genetics Society of America.
About this contributor: Currently a grade 12 high school student who is both ambitious and motivated, but loves to have fun. Interested in human biology, psychology, dramatic soap opera TV shows and fitness through dance, she is in general a very social and open person.

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