Barbara McClintock was an American geneticist at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who dedicated her career to the study of hereditary traits in maize. Armed with rudimentary imaging tools and a sharp eye for genetics, McClintock understood that the spotted colouration of maize kernels was due to a complex four gene system, including “jumping genes” capable of changing their position within the chromosome. Largely misunderstood at the time, this phenomenon, nowadays known as transposition, was later identified in other organisms, challenging the general perception of genome organization across kingdoms. For this discovery, Barbara McClintock was finally awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983, becoming only the third female unshared winner. Transposable elements are nowadays known to comprise the largest single fraction of the genome of most eukaryotes, up to 85% in maize, playing key roles in gene expression regulation and speciation.
Our Plant jumping genes: celebrating the legacy of Barbara McClintock Collection, with contributions from Communications Biology, Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Plants, Nature Reviews Genetics, Scientific Reports, BMC Plant Biology, Mobile DNA, Planta and Plant Molecular Biology Reporter, highlights the impact of her work in modern Plant Biology.