top of page

Helen Redfield's impact on Genetics

Helen Redfield was an exceptional woman born in Archbold Ohio on May 5th, 1900, and died in 1988 in Pennsylvania. She pursued an education in biology and received her undergraduate degree at Rice University, she worked closely with two teachers and mentors who were incredibly important geneticists at the time (Herman Fuller and Hedgar Altenburg) who helped her explore her interest in biology. Later she studied at the University of California at Berkeley (1920 - 1924), in California she had a research fellowship while continuing to work on achieving her doctoral degree surrounding zoology. She left the university of California at Berkeley and went on to be a part of the Stanford University faculty (1925 - 1928) and extended her knowledge of genetics and specifically animal anatomy. Once she had completed her education and received her degree, she went to the University of Colombia to receive another fellowship centered around fruit flies. In the Laboratory of Thomas Hunt Morgan, they had a famous “fly room” which was popular for Drosophila genetics and Helen Redfield’s participation furthered her education and opportunity for research opportunities.

With her doctoral degree in zoology and different research positions regarding drosophila, she was able to add to the study of fruit flies and their genetic model and made significant impacts with the numerous research papers she published. Around this time, Helen married Jack Shultz in 1926, who was a geneticist who worked at the Institute of Cancer Research and headed the division of Biology. Following this, Helen won a fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences from 1926-1927 and later had 2 kids with her husband. However, due to her marriage and kids, she took a leave from her studies to take care of her children. Her time off lasted a decade long, between 1929 and 1939 and this led to a strong delay in her studies, especially with no research position at the time. While World War II was happening, she was working in the Kirchoff Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology as a geneticist. But as she continued her studies, she held no formal position and no real job due to the war aftermath and the prominent gender inequality. A few years later, she worked in Cold Spring Harbor as a laboratory scientist and later her last job working sporadically as a geneticist in different laboratories.

Helen Redfield was known for Drosophila genetics (A small fruit fly that is used extensively in genetic research due to its large chromosomes and its numerous varieties, as well as the rapid rate of reproduction. They have exceptional genetic models and are used for the study of complex behaviors) and cancer research, her paper on “A Comparison of Triploid and Diploid Crossing over for Chromosome II of Drosophila Melanogaster." Genetics. 17.2 (1932): 137-152, compares triploid and haploid females and their X chromosomes, those chromosomes will crossover with each other and produce offspring. Her biggest find was about Drosophila Melanogaster, in her paper “Crossing over in the third chromosomes of triploids of Drosophila Melanogaster." Genetics. 15.3 (1930): 205-252, she researches the breakage and rearrangement of chromosomes after a crossover happens and goes on to explain regressive and progressive double crossovers and the importance of spindle fibers. This paper goes into detail about inverted sections of chromosomes and the process of inversions in genetics.

Her impact on heredity circled chromosomes as she chose to focus on fruit flies and their rapid rate of reproduction and the different varieties that the animal had. With her research, scientists and geneticists now can have a new perspective on what triploid and diploid chromosomes do and how they play a role in Drosophila and animal heredity. I chose to research Helen Redfield because I wanted to understand the role women played in Genetics. Up until now, I had never heard the term Drosophila and while it sounded absurd at first, however after reading Helen Redfield's report about the topic, I found myself wanting to gain a deeper understanding. The complex behaviors of fruit flies paired with their anatomy of large chromosomes allowed them to be the perfect specimen for the learning of genetic information. Helen Redfield was an intelligent woman, her perseverance and love for biology and education never got lost despite the obstacles thrown her way. The research that she found, has made a prominent impact on the medical field, even with the lack of resources available to her she was able to make an admirable impact.

Her research papers are outlined below.

  1. A Comparison of Triploid and Diploid Crossing over for Chromosome II of Drosophila Melanogaster." Genetics. 17.2 (1932): 137-152.

  2. "Crossing over in the third chromosomes of triploids of Drosophila Melanogaster." Genetics. 15.3 (1930): 205-252.

  3. "Delayed Mating and the Relationship of Recombination to Maternal Age in Drosophila Melanogaster." Genetics. 53.3 (1966): 593-607.

  4. "Egg Mortality and Interchromosomal Effects on Recombination." Genetics. 42.6 (1957): 712-728.

  5. with Jack Schultz. "Interchromosomal effects on crossing over in drosophila." Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biology. 16 (1951): 175-197.

  6. "The maternal inheritance of a sex-limited lethal effect in Drosophila melanogaster." Genetics. 11.5 (1926): 482-502.

  7. "Recombination Increase due to Heterologous Inversions and the Relation to Cytological Length." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 41.12 (1955): 1084-1091


Ria Gupta


15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page