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Wednesday's Women in STEM: Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock was born on June 16, 1902 in Hartford, Connecticut. Her family moved to Brooklyn in 1908, and Barbara began searching for colleges in 1919. She applied to Cornell University’s prestigious College of Agriculture, and she matriculated later that year. At Cornell, McClintock studied botany. She was involved in student government and in jazz music. While studying botany at Cornell, her interests in genetics piqued.

Upon graduation, McClintock worked with several professors at top universities. Their work revolved around genetics, mostly about chromosomes, morphology, and meiosis. Notably, McClintock described the cross-shaped interaction of homologous chromosomes during meiosis in 1930. Later, McClintock and another researcher proved that chromosomal crossover during meiosis and the recombination of genetic traits were linked. With this information, she published several genetic maps.

Due to her success, McClintock was given several accolades. These eventually allowed her to work at more universities with more professionals. Some other universities she has done research for are University of Missouri and California Institute of Technology. Here, she continued studying genetics. She studied specifically about the exposure to X-rays and how that can increase mutation rates. For reference, a mutation is the unexpected changing of the structure of a gene. From this, McClintock concluded there must be a structure on chromosomes’ tips that ascertains stability. She studies, described, and explained the loss of ring-chromosomes and its effects on DNA. Along with this, she determined that the presence of the nucleolus organizer region on a region on maize chromosome 6.

Furthermore, she discovered necessities of the nucleus.

McClintock did research abroad as well. She studied for two years in Germany. After this, in 1936, she accepted an Assistant Professorship at the University of Missouri. Though she was only here for four years, she furthered her research. She continued the effects of X-rays on genetics. After four years, she was dissatisfied with this job, and she began working at a laboratory. At this job, she felt far more satisfied. In fact, she became the first female president of the Genetics Society of America. She researched the cytogenetic analysis of Neurospora crassa, a type of mold.

Very notably, McClintock won a Nobel Prize. She received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983. She was the first woman to win that prize unshared. This was for her work in genetics, as it helped advance the world’s knowledge on genetics. Barbara McClintock’s work is unmatched, and it has certainly helped biologists to this day.

BY: Nami Mahajan

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