Barbara McClintock: Geneticist (Women in Science) by J. Heather Cullen

By J. Heather Cullen

Provides the lifestyles and profession of the geneticist who in 1983 was once presented the Nobel Prize for her examine of maize cells.

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PASSION FOR THE STUDY OF MAIZE McClintock decided to focus her graduate research on the cytology and the genetics of maize—how its cells are formed and structured, how they function, and how they pass on their genes. There was a professor there, Rollins Emerson, who was then a leader in the field, which meant she had a nourishing environment in which to study. Maize is a common form of corn, often called “Indian corn”—though in fact the two words, one from Europe and one from the Taino people of San Salvador, both mean “source of life” and really refer to the same plant.

DISAPPOINTMENT IN GERMANY In 1933, McClintock was awarded the Guggenheim fellowship that took her to Germany. Morgan, Emerson, and Stadler recommended McClintock for this prestigious award, and she greatly appreciated the opportunity, but her time in Germany 59 60 BARBARA MCCLINTOCK Curt Stern was a prominent geneticist in Germany; he studied Drosophila, or fruit flies, instead of maize. McClintock had traveled to Germany in 1933 to meet Stern, but by then he had already fled the country because he was Jewish and subject to Nazi persecution.

In the spring of 1900, three botanists, Hugo de Vries of Holland, Karl Correns of Germany, and Erich von Tschermak of Austria, reported independent verifications of Mendel’s work which amounted to a rediscovery of his work. They all, knowing nothing of Mendel’s work, came to the same results through their own independent experiments. Early Work at Cornell: 1918 –1927 Punnett squares (named for the British geneticist Reginald Punnett) show the chances that certain genetic combinations will result from the crossing (mating) of certain others.

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