Who Was Jane Hinton And What Is Her Legacy In Microbiology?
Updated: Nov 12
At Microbigal's we love when science stays in the family. And that's what this post is all about. Today, as part of our Black lives matter in microbiology segment we will discuss Dr. Jane Hinton who is a second-generation Black American MIcrobiologist. But she did not just ride on her father's success. Jane carved out her own path and fought her own wars with race throughout her life. She was a pioneering woman being the first in many categories and helped developed one of the most used microbial agar plates of today.
Who was Jane Hinton?
A second-generation black scientist, Jane Hinton was the daughter of the well-respected William Augustus Hinton (see blog post here) and a high school teacher, Ada Hawes. With a mother and father in such career paths, it's not surprising that education was a priority to this family. She was born on May 1, 1919, in Massachusetts. Wanting the best for his daughters, William took his family to Europe so his girls could get the best education they could, fearing the racism of America would result in a subpar education for them. Jane was an active girl, constantly participating in extracurriculars like orchestra, theater, glee, basketball, and student government positions. It was clear from an early age she had the charisma and motivation to make a mark in American history!
She returned to Massachusetts for her bachelor’s degree which she received in 1939 from Simmons College. Her father was an advocate for women in science, establishing a Medical Laboratory Techniques course open to women. Following in her father’s footsteps, she became a research assistant to John Howard Mueller at Harvard University (where her father was a professor).
What Did She Do For Microbiology?
Together, Mueller and Hinton developed the Mueller-Hinton Agar in 1941 which is a culture medium still used in laboratories today to determine antibiotic resistance among bacteria. You can access the original paper here.
This media is non-selective and non-differential. Microbiologists use a number of agar plates with different ingredients to help grow and identify microbes, especially in the pre-genomics era. Non-selective and non-differential means that it's a rich media designed to grow as many microbes as possible without really defining what the microbe is (for example some media microbes will grow a certain color, or cause the agar to change color). The other very creative thing about Mueller-Hinton agar that allowed it to stand the test of time is that it’s loose. This means when you place antibiotics on the media it's allowed to diffuse or seep in, allowing for antibiotic susceptibility tests to be conducted accurately.
In the pictures shown, the white discs are soaked in different antibiotics (the three letters on the disk are abbreviations for the antibiotics). The microbe of interest is spread all over the plate and the disks are placed on top. It takes about 24-48 hours for most microbes to grow and after this incubation time you can look at the “zone of clearing”. The bigger the zone of clearing the more susceptible the microbe is to that antibiotic. If there is no zone of clearing, then the microbe is resistant to that antibiotic.
When I worked in a Veterinary Diagnostic lab we used to have an antibiotic “stamp”. It was the size of the plate and held up to 8 antibiotic disks so you can easily distribute them on the plate. It felt like scrap booking for microbes! Furthermore, this agar is used to isolate Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (I think from the name you can figure out the disease these bacteria cause!)
During the World War II years, she moved to Arizona in the United States where Hinton worked as a medical technician for the U.S. War Department. She then went on to the school of veterinary medicine to receive her VMD (Veterinary Medicine degree) in 1949, the same year Alfreda Johnson Webb also received her VMD. These 2 were the first Black women to become doctors of veterinary medicine in the United States. She returned to her hometown of Canton, Massachusetts to work as a small animal veterinarian until 1955, where she switched careers once more and became a federal government inspector for the Department of Agriculture to investigate disease outbreaks in livestock.
Jane never married and never had kids, but she loved animals and her garden. She was able to retire at 41 and spent the rest of her life doing what she loved, gardening and caring for her pets. She died in 2003 at 83 years old.
If you have any thoughts about this topic, or if we missed something please let us know by leaving a comment or sending us an email, we'd love to hear from you!
If you are looking to support Black Microbiologists or are a black microbiologist looking for a community check out The Black Microbiologists Association. They aim to amplify Black scientists in microbiology and create a community among them. They host a black in Micro Week in September. Find out more here!
If you liked this article and would like to read more about important Black figures in microbiology, click on the links below.
American Society for Microbiology. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQaOzdcl7gM (2017)
Mitchell, E. http://blog.eoscu.com/blog/black-history-month-leaders-in-microbiology
McFadden, C., Bergan, B., Lang, F. & Nevils-Karakeci, R. https://interestingengineering.com/31-highly-influential-african-american-scientists (2018)
Bastian, H. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/jane-hinton-1919-2003/ (2020)
Mitchell, E. http://blog.eoscu.com/blog/jane-hinton