Recorded: 20 Feb 2001
I can really only talk about the plant group that was essentially founded after she won the Nobel Prize. There was a lot of interest again rejuvenated in Cold Spring Harbor in plants. I know, of course, all those people very well. And so some of my own colleagues at that time were—Steve Dellaporta, who had actually just left when I got here. But one of his students, Paul Chomet and actually his wife now, Brenda Lowe—they were both students and postdocs here at Cold Spring Harbor and they were very close to Barbara. Again, they were very young people and they worked in transposable elements. They worked with a lot of her material, so she actually helped them a great deal, giving them material, explaining what it meant. So they were important people at that time. And then, my colleagues of the plant group at the time, [Venkatesan] Sundar [Sundararesan] [and] Tom Peterson were both maize geneticists with me. And the three of us had a really nice working relationship with her where we would show her our plants in the field and the greenhouse. That was always an exciting thing to do. Much of the work that I did was, at that time—and to some extent still is—involved in exploring variegation. This is the way in which genes vary in their activity during plant development and that was a big thing of hers. She was very well known for her ability to recognize pattern. Patterns that were either developmental in their basis, for example, might originate from the single cell and then be expanded.
Rob Martienssen is a plant molecular geneticist and professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1986 and did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.
As a young scientist, he worked closely with Barbara McClintock. He currently studies plant epigenetics and development using functional genomics. He was awarded the Kumho International Science Award in Plant Biology and Biotechnology (2001).