Wolf Prize Laureate in Medicine 1981
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Carnegie Institute of Washington, USA
Dr. Barbara McClintock is recognized for her imaginative and important contributions to our understanding of chromosome structure, behavior and function. Her early work established many of the properties of chromosomes, including the cytological proof that genetic recombination involves a physical crossing over of homologous chromosomes. Her most brilliant contribution, however, has been her identification and description of transposable (mobile) genetic elements.
These are now known to exist in bacteria, lower eukaryotes, higher plants and animals.
They are, in all probability, ubiquitous. Thirty years ago, McClintock had already identified and described the basic behavior of transposable elements: that they can move from place to place in the genome, that they can disrupt expression of a gene by insertion in or near the gene, that gene expression can be restored fully or partially when the element is removed by transposition and that they are involved in the production of unidirectional deletions and a number of other types of chromosomal rearrangements. Recent studies have confirmed that the transposable elements of yeast and bacteria share all of these properties.