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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cold Spring Harbor Labs and Barbara McClintock at work, 1947
Photograph by Elizabeth Watson.

Barbara McClintock Barbara McClintock teaching and winning the Nobel Prize
Photograph by Herb Parsons and Leiff Jansson. Photographs courtesy of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Barbara McClintock, (1902-1992),
genetic scientist

On December 7, 1941, genetic scientist Barbara McClintock arrived at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory complex and began a 50-year tenure that would see her discover "jumping genes," and win a Nobel Prize in Physiology. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established Cold Spring Harbor in 1880 as a fish hatchery, but in 1890 shifted its focus to proving or refuting Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. By the 1930s, the combined institutions that made up the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories were among the most respected in the United States. Unable to gain tenure at the University of Missouri because of her gender, Barbara McClintock came to Cold Spring Harbor in 1941 to further her research on multi-colored "Indian corn." In a small field near the harbor, McClintock meticulously crossed different strains of corn, and eventually realized that Indian corn's random coloration was produced by a "jumping gene" that turned some kernels red, and others yellow. When McClintock announced her findings, scientists concluded that maize's genetic makeup was "unique," and that it didn't apply "generally," since current theories erroneously stated that genes held permanent positions like beads on a string. Her peers' lack of enthusiasm for her work greatly disappointed McClintock, and she eventually stopped publishing. In the 1970s, however, new research proved McClintock's findings correct--"jumping genes" were a common genetic occurrence in plants and animals. In the last 20 years, McClintock's theories have spawned entire new fields of research. In 1983, at the age of 81, Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Cold Spring Harbor Research Laboratory, home to numerous other Nobel Prize winners and important scientific findings, today continues its historic role as one of America's elite genetics labs.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is located at 1 Bungtown Road in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island in NY. The public is welcome to tour the Laboratory's grounds.

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Last Modified: Monday, 30-Mar-98 15:42:58EST