Barbara McClintock worked on genetics in corn (maize) plants and spent most of her life conducting research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Laurel Hollow, New York. McClintock's research focused on reproduction and mutations in maize, and described the phenomenon of genetic crossover in chromosomes. Through her maize mutation experiments, McClintock observed transposons, or mobile elements of genes within the chromosome, which jump around the genome. McClintock received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for her research on chromosome transposition. McClintock's work helped explain the behavior of chromosomes in organismal development and identified transposition as a cause of genetic variation.
The Origin and Behavior of Mutable Loci in Maize, by Barbara McClintock, was published in 1950 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. McClintock worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Laurel Hollow, New York, at the time of the publication, and describes her discovery of transposable elements in the genome of corn (Zea mays). Transposable elements, sometimes called transposons or jumping genes, are pieces of the chromosome capable of physically changing positions along the chromosome. The Origin and Behavior explains the mechanics of development that occur in maize kernels, which are plant embryos.
Barbara McClintock conducted experiments on corn (Zea mays) in the United States in the mid-twentieth century to study the structure and function of the chromosomes in the cells. McClintock researched how genes combined in corn and proposed mechanisms for how those interactions are regulated. McClintock received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983, the first woman to win the prize without sharing it. McClintock won the award for her introduction of the concept of transposons, also called jumping genes. McClintock conceptualized some genetic material as not static in structure and order, but as subject to re-arrangement and may be altered during development.
In 1951 and 1952, Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase conducted a series of experiments at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, that verified genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Hershey and Chase performed their experiments, later named the Hershey-Chase experiments, on viruses that infect bacteria, also called bacteriophages. The experiments followed decades of scientists’ skepticism about whether genetic material was composed of protein or DNA. The most well-known Hershey-Chase experiment, called the Waring Blender experiment, provided concrete evidence that genes were made of DNA. The Hershey-Chase experiments settled the long-standing debate about the composition of genes, thereby allowing scientists to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which genes function in organisms.
David Baltimore studied viruses and the immune system in the US during the twentieth century. In 1975, Baltimore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering reverse transcriptase, the enzyme used to transfer information from RNA to DNA. The discovery of reverse transcriptase contradicted the central dogma of biology at the time, which stated that the transfer of information was unidirectional from DNA, RNA, to protein. Baltimore’s research on reverse transcriptase led to the discovery of retroviruses, which accelerated the development of treatments for human immunodeficiency virus or HIV and cancer vaccines. Baltimore also influenced public policy and opinion on genetic engineering. In 1975, he helped organize the Asilomar Conference in Pacific Grove, California, which discussed the regulation of recombinant DNA or the DNA created using multiple sources of genetic material. Baltimore’s research demonstrated how retroviruses replicate and infect cells, and his influence on the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA has guided discussions about regulating biotechnology.
Between 1953 and 1957, before the Meselson-Stahl experiment verified semi-conservative replication of DNA, scientists debated how DNA replicated. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick proposed that DNA was composed of two helical strands that wound together in a coil. Their model suggested a replication mechanism, later termed semi-conservative replication, in which parental DNA strands separated and served as templates for the replication of new daughter strands. Many scientists, beginning with Max Delbrück, questioned Watson and Cricks’ model and suggested new theories for DNA replication. By 1957, three theories about DNA replication prevailed: semi-conservative, conservative, and dispersive replication. Then, Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl conducted the Meselson-Stahl experiment, which returned results that supported the semi-conservative theory of DNA replication. The collaboration among scientists that ultimately produced concrete evidence of the DNA replication mechanism furthered both theoretical and physical explanations of genetics and molecular biology, providing insight into how life develops, reproduces, and evolves.