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The Sound of Science - 'Dr. Barbara McClintock'

Lavilla: Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Lavilla from NIU STEM Outreach.  

Alexis: And I’m Alexis. This March we’ll be celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring prominent women in STEM, like geneticist Dr. Barbara McClintock.


Lavilla:  Born in the early 1900’s, McClintock came from a family that placed a heavy emphasis on marriage. In fact, her family cared so much about seeing their daughter marry that when McClintock wanted to attend college her mother rejected the idea.


Alexis: Luckily, McClintock’s father saw things a bit different and encouraged his daughter to pursue her passion for science. McClintock began studying at Cornell’s College of Agriculture in 1919. Two years later, she enrolled in the only genetics course offered at the undergraduate level. At the time, the study of genetics was still evolving because it was only 21 years since scientists rediscovered Mendel’s principle of heredity.


Lavilla: McClintock quickly became fascinated with cytology, the branch of biology that focuses on plant and animal cells. McClintock went on to get a PhD in the field. After she completed her degree, she began researching corn cytogenetics. Her research helped prove that genetic elements sometimes change position on a chromosome, causing nearby genes to either activate or deactivate.  


Alexis: Elements that change position are called transposable elements or “jumping genes.” They are controlled autonomously by an element called “the activator.” When a jumping gene breaks away from its place on a chromosome it’s called “dissociation.”   

It should come as no surprise that McClintock earned a multitude of awards and honoraries for her work, including the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.  


Lavilla: While there’s so much more we could say about McClintock, it looks like our time is up. Tune in next week where we’ll feature another woman who changed the world. This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ.  


Alexis: Where you learn something new every day.  

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