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The Dynamic Genome: Barbara McClintock's Ideas in the Century of Genetics

Subject Area(s):  Molecular BiologyGeneticsAutobiography/BiographyHistory of SciencePlant Biology

Edited by Nina Fedoroff, Carnegie Institution of Washington; David Botstein, Stanford University School of Medicine

© 1992 • 422 pp., illus, indexes
This book has been produced using print on demand technology.
Paper • $29 14.50
ISBN  978-087969396-1
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  •     Description    
  •     Contents    
  •     Reviews    


Barbara McClintock was born in 1902, within a few years of the rediscovery of Mendel's laws. Her life, discoveries, and insights span the history of genetics in this century.

In the 1920s, she became a dominant figure in the group that flourished at Cornell University under R.A. Emerson and made remarkable technical and conceptual advances in maize cytogenetics. These studies continued at the California Institute of Technology, in Freiburg, Germany, and at the University of Missouri. In 1942, she joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, where she became a Distinguished Service Member.

McClintock's unique ability to discern relationships between the behavior of chromosomes and the properties of the whole organism earned her early recognition. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1944 and to the presidency of the Genetics Society of America in 1945. Had she done no more, McClintock would have become a major figure in the history of genetics.

But at Cold Spring Harbor, she began the studies of the consequence of dicentric chromosome formation and breakage that led her to the discovery of genetic elements capable of moving within the genome and controlling expression of other genes. Although McClintock was universally respected and admired, the first reaction to these findings was often uncomprehending or indifferent, even dismissive. In due course, however, the generality of mobile genetic elements and the concept of a dynamic genome were understood and widely accepted, culminating in the award to McClintock of an unshared Nobel Prize in 1983.

As Barbara's 90th birthday approached, some of her many friends and colleagues were invited to write essays for the occasion. This book contains a kaleidoscope of contributions, many by those who discovered transposition in other organisms. Their essays give a remarkable account of the scientific legacy of one of the century's greatest geneticists.


Introduction (N. Fedoroff, D. Botstein)
Reprint of Creighton and McClintock 1931. A Correlation of Cytological and Genetical Crossing-over in Zea mays. Recollections of Barbara McClintock's Cornell Years (H.B. Creighton); Barbara McClintock: Reminiscences (C. Burnham); Barbara McClintock: Recollections of a Graduate Student (H.V. Crouse); Neurospora Chromosomes (D.D. Perkins); The Early Years of Maize Genetics (M.M. Rhoades)
Reprint of McClintock 1952. Chromosome Organization and Genic Expression. Insertion by Phages and Transposons (A. Campbell); Cold Spring Harbor 1944-1955: A Minimemoir (E.M. Witkin); Annals of Mobile DNA Elements in Drosophila: The Impact and Influence of Barbara McClintock (M. Green); The Mutable waxy and bronze1 Alleles of Maize (O.E. Nelson); Remembrances of Barbara McClintock (O.L. Miller, Jr.); The Nucleolar-organizing Element (J.G. Gall); Do Some "Parasitic" DNA Elements Earn an Honest Living? (M.-L. Pardue); The Plural of Heterochromatin (C.D. Laird); A Tapestry of Transposition (A.M. Skalka); Reprint of McClintock 1956. Intranuclear Systems Controlling Gene Action and Mutation
Reprint of Introduction. The Discovery and Characterization of Transposable Elements: The Collected Papers of Barbara McClintock. Kernels and Colonies: The Challenge of Pattern (J.A. Shapiro); Phage Mu: An Early Prokaryotic Controlling Element (M.M. Howe); Discovery of the Bacterial Transposon Tn10 (D. Botstein); McClintock (1933): Implications for Meiotic Chromosome Pairing (N. Kleckner); Twenty-five Years of Transposable Element Research in Köaut;ln (H Saedler, P. Starlinger); Obsession with Sequences (N.D.F. Grindley); The Revenge of the Mayans (G. Albrecht-Buehler); "Please Come to My Laboratory for Better Coffee, Fresh Orange Juice … Conversation" (B.M. Alberts); Transposable Elements (Ty) in Yeast (G.R. Fink); Controlling Elements, Mutable Alleles, and Mating-type Interconversion (I. Herskowitz); Thinking about Programmed Genome Rearrangements in a Genome Static State of Mind (J.N. Strathern); The Role of McClintock's Controlling Element Concept in the Story of Yeast Mating-type Switching (A.J.S. Klar); From Bacterial Flagella to Homeodomains (M.I. Simon); Discovery of Tc1 in the Nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans (P. Anderson et al.); Reprint of McClintock 1978. Mechanisms That Rapidly Reorganize the Genome
The Nobel Prize and a Molecular Retrospective
Reprint of McClintock 1984. Nobel Prize Lecture: The Significance of Responses of the Genome to Challenge. Broken Chromosomes and Telomeres (E.H. Blackburn); Maize Transposable Elements: A Story in Four Parts (N.V. Fedoroff)


review:  "a pure pleasure for anyone interested in the history of genetics and the life of one of its greatest exponents."

review:  "a vast, charming and valuable volume of scientific history and results that have only one focus in common: all derive in some way from McClintock's ideas…. Each story is told by an acknowledged leader in the field, and each is crafted with care. This volume, in its entirety, provides a way for the general biologist or historian to begin to understand McClintock as an influential part—but a part nonetheless—of a larger scientific community of ideas built upon experimental discoveries."
      —Trends in Genetics