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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index M > Barbara McClintock Quotes

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Barbara McClintock
(16 Jun 1902 - 3 Sep 1992)

American geneticist regarded as one of the most important figures in the field, who was the first American woman to win an unsharedNobel Prize (Physiology or Medicine in 1983). In the 1940s and 1950s, based on her work on the cytogenetics of maize, she theorized that genes are transposable - can move around - on and between chromosomes.


Science Quotes by Barbara McClintock (11 quotes)

Every component of the organism is as much of an organism as every other part.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 200.
Science quotes on:  |  Component (48)  |  Organism (220)  |  Other (2236)

Every time I walk on grass, I feel sorry because I know the grass is screaming at me.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 200.
Science quotes on:  |  Empathy (3)  |  Feel (366)  |  Feel Sorry (4)  |  Grass (46)  |  Know (1519)  |  Sorry (30)  |  Time (1877)  |  Walk (124)

I start with the seedling, and I don't want to leave it. I don't feel I really know the story if I don't watch the plant all the way along. So I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately, and I find it a real pleasure to know them.
— Barbara McClintock
In Jay B. McDaniel, 'Christian Spirituality as Openness to Fellow Creatures', Environmental Ethics (1986) 8(1), 34. Quoted in Charles Birch, Biology and the Riddle of Life (1999), 56.
Science quotes on:  |  All (4107)  |  Autobiography (56)  |  Feel (366)  |  Field (365)  |  Find (999)  |  Know (1519)  |  Plant (295)  |  Pleasure (179)  |  Start (221)  |  Story (118)  |  Want (497)  |  Watch (109)  |  Way (1216)

I was just so interested in what I was doing I could hardly wait to get up in the morning and get at it. One of my friends, a geneticist, said I was a child, because only children can't wait to get up in the morning to get at what they want to do.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 70.
Science quotes on:  |  Autobiography (56)  |  Career (76)  |  Child (309)  |  Children (200)  |  Do (1908)  |  Doing (280)  |  Enthusiasm (52)  |  Friend (168)  |  Geneticist (16)  |  Interest (386)  |  Morning (94)  |  Research (677)  |  Want (497)

If you know you're right, you don't care. You know that sooner or later, it will come out in the wash.
When asked about the long delay in recognition for her discovery.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Thomson Gale (Online), 'Barbara McClintock', World of Biology. Also quoted in Claudia Wallis, 'Honoring a Modern Mendel', Time (24 Oct 1983), 43-4.
Science quotes on:  |  Ask (411)  |  Autobiography (56)  |  Care (186)  |  Delay (20)  |  Discovery (785)  |  Know (1519)  |  Long (789)  |  Recognition (88)  |  Right (452)  |  Wash (21)  |  Will (2354)

It never occurred to me that there was going to be any stumbling block. Not that I had the answer, but [I had] the joy of going at it. When you have that joy, you do the right experiments. You let the material tell you where to go, and it tells you at every step what the next has to be because you're integrating with an overall brand new pattern in mind.
When asked how she could have worked for two years without knowing the outcome.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 125.
Science quotes on:  |  Answer (366)  |  Ask (411)  |  Autobiography (56)  |  Do (1908)  |  Experiment (696)  |  Joy (107)  |  Knowing (137)  |  Material (353)  |  Mind (1339)  |  Never (1087)  |  New (1217)  |  Next (236)  |  Overall (9)  |  Pattern (110)  |  Research (677)  |  Right (452)  |  Step (231)  |  Stumbling Block (6)  |  Tell (340)  |  Two (937)  |  Work (1351)  |  Year (932)

Plants are extraordinary. For instance ... if you pinch a leaf of a plant you set off electrical impulse. You can't touch a plant without setting off an electrical impulse ... There is no question that plants have all kinds of sensitivities. They do a lot of responding to an environment. They can do almost anything you can think of.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in George Ritzer and Barry Smart, Handbook of Social Theory, 532.
Science quotes on:  |  All (4107)  |  Do (1908)  |  Electrical (57)  |  Environment (216)  |  Extraordinary (79)  |  Impulse (48)  |  Kind (557)  |  Leaf (66)  |  Lot (151)  |  Pinch (5)  |  Plant (295)  |  Question (622)  |  Reflex (14)  |  Set (394)  |  Setting (44)  |  Think (1086)  |  Touch (142)

The ability of a cell to sense these broken ends, to direct them towards each other, and then to unite them so that the union of the two DNA strands is correctly oriented, is a particularly revealing example of the sensitivity of cells to all that is going on within them. They make wise decisions and act on them.
— Barbara McClintock
(8 Dec 1983) The Significance of Responses of the Genome to Challenge, Nobel Lecture
Science quotes on:  |  Ability (153)  |  Act (272)  |  All (4107)  |  Broken (56)  |  Cell (138)  |  Decision (91)  |  Direct (225)  |  DNA (77)  |  End (590)  |  Other (2236)  |  Sense (770)  |  Sensitivity (10)  |  Strand (9)  |  Two (937)  |  Union (51)  |  Unite (42)  |  Wise (132)

The prize is such an extraordinary honor. It might seem unfair, however, to reward a person for having so much pleasure over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in the New York Times, 11 Oct 1983.
Science quotes on:  |  Asking (74)  |  Extraordinary (79)  |  Genetics (101)  |  Honor (54)  |  Maize (4)  |  Nobel Prize (40)  |  Person (363)  |  Plant (295)  |  Pleasure (179)  |  Problem (679)  |  Response (53)  |  Reward (68)  |  Solve (130)  |  Specific (95)  |  Year (932)

They thought I was crazy, absolutely mad.
The response (1944) of the National Academy of Sciences, to her (later Nobel prize-winning) theory that proposed that genes could transition—'jumping'—to new locations on a chromosome.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Claudia Wallis, 'Honoring a Modern Mendel', Time (24 Oct 1983), 43.
Science quotes on:  |  Academy (35)  |  Chromosome (23)  |  Crazy (26)  |  Gene (98)  |  Location (15)  |  Mad (53)  |  New (1217)  |  Nobel Prize (40)  |  Response (53)  |  Science (3880)  |  Theory (972)  |  Thought (954)  |  Transition (26)  |  Winning (19)

With the tools and the knowledge, I could turn a developing snail's egg into an elephant. It is not so much a matter of chemicals because snails and elephants do not differ that much; it is a matter of timing the action of genes.
— Barbara McClintock
Quoted in Bruce Wallace, The Search for the Gene (1992), 176.
Science quotes on:  |  Action (328)  |  Chemical (292)  |  Differ (85)  |  Do (1908)  |  Egg (69)  |  Elephant (31)  |  Gene (98)  |  Knowledge (1536)  |  Matter (801)  |  Snail (10)  |  Time (1877)  |  Tool (117)  |  Turn (447)



Quotes by others about Barbara McClintock (4)

... an analysis that puts the final link in the chain, for here we see correlations between cytological evidence and genetic results that are so strong and obvious that their validity cannot be denied. This paper has been called a landmark in experimental genetics. It is more than that—it is a cornerstone.
Describing the paper 'A Correlation of Cytological and Genetic Crossings-over in Zea mays' published by Barbara McClintock and her student Harriet Creighton in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1931), demonstrating that the exchange of genetic information that occurs during the production of sex cells is accompanied by an exchange of chromosomal material.
Classic Papers in Genetics (1959), 156.
Science quotes on:  |  Academy (35)  |  Analysis (234)  |  Call (769)  |  Cornerstone (6)  |  Correlation (18)  |  Evidence (248)  |  Exchange (37)  |  Experimental (192)  |  Final (119)  |  Genetic (108)  |  Genetics (101)  |  Information (166)  |  Landmark (9)  |  Material (353)  |  More (2559)  |  Obvious (126)  |  Occur (150)  |  Paper (183)  |  Proceeding (38)  |  Production (183)  |  Result (678)  |  Science (3880)  |  See (1082)  |  Sex (69)  |  Strong (174)  |  Student (301)  |  Validity (47)

It is not an easy paper to follow, for the items that require retention throughout the analysis are many, and it is fatal to one's understanding to lose track of any of them. Mastery of this paper, however, can give one the strong feeling of being ableto master anything else [one] might have to wrestle within biology.
Describing the paper 'A Correlation of Cytological and Genetic Crossings-over in Zea mays' published by Barbara McClintock and her student Harriet Creighton in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1931).
Classic Papers in Genetics (1959), 156.
Science quotes on:  |  Academy (35)  |  Analysis (234)  |  Being (1278)  |  Biology (216)  |  Correlation (18)  |  Easy (204)  |  Feeling (252)  |  Follow (379)  |  Genetic (108)  |  Lose (159)  |  Master (178)  |  Mastery (34)  |  Paper (183)  |  Proceeding (38)  |  Require (219)  |  Science (3880)  |  Strong (174)  |  Student (301)  |  Throughout (98)  |  Track (40)  |  Understanding (514)

[Barbara McClintock's] burning curiosity, enthusiasm, and uncompromising honesty serve as a constant reminder of what drew us all to science in the first place
Obituary, 'Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)' Nature (24 Sep 1992), 272.
Science quotes on:  |  All (4107)  |  Burning (48)  |  Constant (144)  |  Curiosity (128)  |  Enthusiasm (52)  |  First (1284)  |  Honesty (25)  |  Science (3880)

I’ve known a lot of famous scientists. But the only one I thought was really a genius was McClintock.
Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1984), 50
Science quotes on:  |  Genius (285)  |  Known (454)  |  Lot (151)  |  Scientist (825)  |  Thought (954)


See also:
  • 16 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of McClintock's birth.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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