Genetics pioneer Nettie Stevens receives ‘X Y’ Doodle

7 Jul 2016

Nettie Stevens, one of the most influential geneticists of the 20th century, has received a celebratory Google Doodle over a century after her death.

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. So goes the old adage that attempts to highlight the non-tangible differences between the genders.

Of course, geneticists would disagree somewhat, such as Nettie Stevens, the scientists who discovered the link between chromosomes and physicality over a century ago.

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It is through Stevens’ pioneering work as a geneticist that we now know about X/Y sex determination, and that while females only produce Y in their eggs, males produce X and Y in their sperm.

Born in the US in 1861, Stevens died in May of 1912 of breast cancer, less than a decade after completing her PhD, publishing around 40 papers in that time.

“It is rare for one who starts so late in life to attain in a few years so high a rank amongst leaders in one’s chosen field,” wrote scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan in an obituary upon her death.

“In Miss Stevens’ case this was made possible by her natural ability and devotion to her work.”

Originally looking at morphology and taxonomy, Stevens’ landmark paper was published in 1905, describing her discovery of the X and Y chromosomes in yellow mealworms.

In one of science’s more common quirks, the same year Edmund Beecher Wilson announced his own findings of a similar regard, though they worked entirely independently of each other.

Up until this discovery, it was unknown what determined the sex of offspring, however, social structures were regularly credited – for example, embryonic environmental influences.

To celebrate her scientific achievements, Google’s latest Doodle marks what would have been Stevens’ 155th birthday.Nettis Stevens

Of course, genetics didn’t end back in 1905, with interest in the studying of chromosomes only growing ever since.

For example, earlier this year, a paper published in Genome Research claimed that the male-specific Y chromosome in humans has more in common with gorillas than chimpanzees in many ways.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic