Waksman Discovers the Antibiotic Streptomycin (Great Events from History II: Science and Technology Series)
Article abstract: Waksman searched for antibacterial substances in soil microorganisms, discovering eighteen antibiotics, including streptomycin, the first effective drug against tuberculosis.
Summary of Event
The discovery of streptomycin was not a matter of chance as was penicillin; it was the result of a well-planned program of research. Some microbiologists in the late nineteenth century believed in a struggle for existence in the microbial world, and in 1889 Paul Vuillemin used the word “antibiosis” in reference to this natural antagonism between species. Some microbiologists also believed microbes contained substances that inhibited the growth of other microbes. There were attempts to isolate chemotherapeutic agents from molds and bacteria, but the field was abandoned in the early twentieth century as barren until the reawakening of interest in such agents by René Dubos in the 1930’s.
Dubos was a student of Selman Abraham Waksman. Both men emigrated to the United States in their twenties. Waksman spent his entire career at Rutgers University, becoming the leading figure in American soil microbiology. He was extraordinarily prolific, producing more than five hundred articles and twenty-eight books. His expertise was the population of microorganisms that inhabit the soil. He elaborated the ecology, taxonomy, and physiology of thousands of species. He specialized in one type of soil microbe, the...
(The entire section is 2114 words.)
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