The role of women in biotechnology

Often hidden from view, women have played a major role in the development of biotechnology and medicine. Indeed, women have been at the cutting edge of biotechnology, including Rosalind Franklin who played a fundamental role in deciphering the structure of DNA; Esther Lederberg who discovered the lambda phage which is now a major tool for studying gene regulation and genetic recombination; Margaret Dayhoff who developed the field of bioinformatics; Janet Mertz who created the first piece of recombinant DNA; and Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier who helped pioneer CRISPR, a revolutionary technique for genome editing.

Here we provide a number of profiles of women who have been key pioneers in biotechnology. These profiles have been compiled as part of an ongoing project to highlight the many contributions women have made to biotechnology. This is a work in progress and we welcome suggestions for other women to be included.

Our aim is to raise funds for the launch of an online exhibition in 2017 on women in biotechnology to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marie Curie, the first person and only woman to twice win the Nobel Prize.

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Some of the leading women in biotechnology

Don't hesitate to contact us if you think of other women who have played an important role in the development of biotechnology and who are not here.

Women in biotechnology: timeline of key events

Date Event People Places
November 7, 1867Marie Curie, nee Sklodowska, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911, was born in Warsaw, Russian Empire (now Poland)Curie
June 16, 1902Barbara McClintock was born in Hartford CT, USAMcClintockUniversity of Missouri
April 22, 1909Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in Turin, ItalyLevi-MontalciniInstitute of Cell Biology of the CNR
May 10, 1910Dorothy M Crowfoot Hodgkin was born in Cairo, EgyptHodgkinCairo, Egypt
September 19, 1915Elizabeth S Shankman was born in Cobalt, Ontario, CanadaShankmanUniversity of California at Los Angeles
January 23, 1918Gertrude B Elion was born in New York NY, USAElionWellcome Research Laboratories
July 25, 1920Rosalind E Franklin was born in London, United KingdomFranklinKings College London
March 9, 1921Evelyn Witkin was born in New York City, USAWitkin
July 19, 1921Rosalyn Yalow was born in New York NY, USAYalowVeterans Administration Hospital
December 18, 1922Esther Lederberg was born in Bronx, New York, USALederbergWisconsin University
April 1, 1923Brigitte Askonas was born in Vienna, AustriaAskonas
March 11, 1925Margaret Dayhoff was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USADayhoff
January 23, 1930Beverly Griffin was born in Dehli, Louisiana, USAGriffinImperial College
December 30, 1930Tu Youyou was born in Zhejiang, ChinaYouyou
July 4, 1934Marie Curie diedCurie
February 27, 1946Mary-Claire King was born in Illinois, USAKing
July 30, 1947Francoise Barré-Sinoussi born in Paris, FranceBarre-Sinoussi
1952First observation of the modification of viruses by bacteriaLuria, HumanUniversity of Illinois
January 1952X-ray diffraction image, produced by Rosalind Franklin, shows DNA to have regularly repeating helical structureFranklinKings College London
January 1, 1953Ingeborg Hochmair-Desoyer was born in Vienna, AustriaHochmair-Desoyer
April 1953Franklin's x-ray image of DNA publishedFranklinKings College London
March 17, 1956Irène Joliot-Curie diedCurie
April 16, 1958Rosalind E Franklin diedFranklinKings College London
April 15, 1961Carol W Greider was born in San Diego CA, USAGreiderJohns Hopkins University
1962Concept of restriction and modification enzymes bornArber, DussoixUniversity of Geneva
1965Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure publishedDayhoffNational Biomedical Research Foundation
1970 - 1972Means developed for cloning B cells that produce single antibodies with known specificityAskonas, Williamson, WrightNational Institute for Medical Research
1971First plasmid bacterial cloning vector constructedBerg, Mertz, JacksonStanford University
June 1971First time potential biohazards of recombinant DNA raisedMertz, Berg, PollackStanford University
December 1971First experiments published demonstrating the use of restriction enzymes to cut DNADanna, NathansJohns Hopkins University
November 1972First easy-to-use technique published for constucting recombinant DNA. J. Mertz, R. Davis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 69/11, pp. 2270-74.Berg, MertzStanford University Medical School
1980 - 1990Existence of the blood stem cell is debatedDexter, Lord, Weissmann, Morrison
August 18, 1980Elizabeth Stern Shankman diedShankmanUniversity of California at Los Angeles
September 1980First DNA sequence database createdDayhoffNational Biomedical Research Foundation
1980Largest nucleic acid sequence database in the world made available free over telephone networkDayhoffNational Biomedical Research Foundation
February 5, 1983Margaret Dayhoff died in Silver Spring, Maryland, USADayhoff
1984First chimeric monoclonal antibodies developed which lays foundation for safer and more effective monoclonal antibody therapeuticsNeuberger, Rabbitts, Morrison, Oi, Herzenberg, Boulianne, Schulman, HozumiLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Stanford Univerity Medical School
September 2, 1992Barbara McClintock diedMcClintockUniversity of Missouri
July 27, 1994Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin diedHodgkinShipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, UK
July 29, 1994Dorothy M Crowfoot Hodgkin diedHodgkinOxford University
1996First reports that blood stem cell might be able to give rise to cells other than those of the blood systemBlau, Lagasse, Lemischka, Morrison, Thiese, Krause, Gussoni, Bjornson
February 21, 1999Gertrude B Elion diedElionWellcome Research Laboratories
November 11, 2006Esther Lederberg diedLederbergWisconsin University
May 30, 2011Rosalyn Yalow diedYalowVeterans Administration Hospital
May 2012First patent application submitted for CRISPR-Cas 9 technologyDoudna, CharpentierUniversity of California Berkeley, University of Vienna
August 2012A group of scientists based at Howard Hughes Medical Institute publish a new method that harnesses the CRISPR-Cas9 system for genome editingJinek, Chylinski, Fonfara, Hauer, Doudna, CharpentierUniversity of California Berkeley
December 30, 2012Rita Levi-Montalcini diedLevi-MontalciniInstitute of Cell Biology of the CNR
January 9, 2013Brigitte Askonas died in London, United KingdomAskonas
October 5, 2015Tu Youyou awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of artemisinin, a treatment for malariaYouyou
June 13, 2016Beverly Griffin diedGriffinImperial College

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