Nettie Stevens Discovered XY Chromosomes — And Then a Man Took Credit for Her Work

Nettie Stevens Discovered XY Chromosomes — And Then a Man Took Credit for Her Work
Source: Google
Source: Google

Geneticist Nettie Stevens is renowned for her revolutionary research on XY chromosomes, the link between genetics and sex determination and why someone is born female or male. She was born 155 years ago today and she's remembered in the latest Google Doodle.

Nettie Stevens on July 7's Google Doodle
Source: 
Google

Still, most people haven't heard of her. Why? It's a classic Rosalind Franklin case. Stevens was yet another woman scientist robbed of proper credit as men were acclaimed for using her research.

Nettie Stevens
Source: 
Public domain

Nettie Stevens was a pioneer: Stevens was alive at the end of the 19th century when most women were restricted to a handful of professions and marriage. Instead, after putting herself through school, she became a scientist and began researching chromosomes — small structures in the nucleus of cells that hold DNA. In her research with mealworms, she discovered that sperm contains either an X or Y chromosome, while an egg has only an X chromosome. An XX pairing would create a female and an XY pairing would create a male. 

It was a profound insight: Previously, we had no idea how sex was determined. Many came to believe the mother determined the sex of the child or the mother's environment had some influence.

Molecular chromosomes
Source: 
thescienceofreality.tumblr.com/Giphy

However, scientists didn't embrace her theory immediately. And today, Stevens almost never gets credit for making the discovery. The problem is that another male researcher, Edmund Wilson, made a similar discovery and published similar results around the same time as Stevens. 

"It is generally stated that E.B. Wilson obtained the same results as Stevens, at the same time," historian Stephen Brush writes. However, "Wilson probably did not arrive at his conclusion on sex determination until after he had seen Stevens' results." 

Brush later adds, "Because of Wilson's more substantial contributions in other areas, he tends to be given most of the credit for this discovery."

We've still got a long way to go before we see equality in science

"Sometime in the 1970s or 1980s perhaps, overtly sexist comments went mostly underground but there is still resistance to full inclusion of women in the science enterprise," professor of physics and astronomy Meg Urry said in an email. "We know that implicit bias, insufficient mentoring, shifting criteria for evaluation, lack of role models and sexual harassment all play a role in preventing the full participation of women. Many are working hard to change this but we still have some distance to go."

Read more:
• CRISPR Gene Editing Has Even More Potential Than We Thought, According to a New Study
• Why Is 'White Feminism' Such a Dirty Phrase? A History of Feminism and Exclusion
• Young Adults Want Gender Equality — They Just Don't Want to Identify as Feminists

How much do you trust the information in this article?

MORE FROM

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.