Harbor Laboratory Archives
America's most distinguished cytogeneticist, Barbara McClintock, was born in Hartford, Connecticut on June 16, 1902. After attending high school in New York City, she enrolled at Cornell University in 1919 and from this institution received the B.S. degree in 1923, the M.A. in 1925, and the Ph.D. in 1927. She served as a graduate assistant in the Department of Botany from 1924-27 and in 1927, following completion of her graduate studies, was appointed Instructor, a post she held until 1931. Dr. McClintock was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship in 1931 and spent two years as a Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. In 1933 she received a Guggenheimn Fellowship which enabled her to spend a year abroad at Freiburg. She returned to the States and to the Department of Plant Breeding at Cornell in 1934. She left Cornell in 1936 to accept an Assistant Professorship in the Department of Botany at the University of Missouri. In 1941 she joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and began a happy and fruitful association which continued for the rest of her life. She was most recently a Distinguished Service Member of Carnegie's Genetics Research Unit at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. McClintock was appointed Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell in 1965, a fitting recognition by her Alma Mater of the great distinction she has achieved as a scientist and scholar. She died in 1992.
Barbara McClintock was awarded the honorary Doctor of Science degree by: the University of Rochester in 1947; Western College in 1949; Smith College in 1957; the University of Missouri in 1968; Williams College in 1972; The Rockefeller University in 1979; and Harvard University in 1979. Georgetown University presented her with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1981.
Numerous foundations and societies have praised Dr. McClintock for her fine research and scholarship. She was the recipient in 1947 of the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women, was given the Award of Merit by the Botanical Society of America in 1957, and the Kimber Genetics Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 1967. In 1970 Barbara McClintock was again recognized for her accomplishments in genetics, receiving the National Medal of Science, and in 1973 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory honored her by dedicating a building in her name. She was the recipient, in 1978, of both the Lewis S. Rosentiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research and The Louis and Bert Freedman Foundation Award for Research in Biochemistry. In 1980, at the University of Colorado, The Genetics Society of America saluted Dr. McClintock "for her brilliance, originality, ingenuity and complete dedication to research." During two months in 1981, Dr. McClintock amassed three significant prizes. Israel's Wolf Foundation awarded her the Wolf Prize in Medicine; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named her as their first Prize Fellow Laureate; and the Lasker Foundation awarded her the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Columbia University, in 1982, presented Dr. McClintock with the Lousia Gross Horwitz Prize for her outstanding research in the "evolution of genetic information and the control of its expression." Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine on October 10, 1983.
McClintock was for many years a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, as well as several other professional organizations. She was elected Vice President of the Genetics Society of America in 1939 and President in 1945. Between 1963 and 1969, as Special Consultant to the Agricultural Science Program of The Rockefeller Foundation, she was instrumental in advancing the training of geneticists in several Latin American countries.
Forty years ago Dr. McClintock's studies and observations of mutation in kernels of maize (corn), led to her discovery of transposable genetic elements. Although the scientific community largely ignored her concepts, advances in molecular and microbial genetics ultimately proved her findings correct. She is now credited as the discoverer of transposable genes; a discovery which is at the very root of much of today's research in genetic engineering.
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