Streptomycin Kills TB and Other Bacteria: Soil Research Yields First Aminoglycoside from Streptomyces griseus

Soil microbes fight fiercely for space, nutrients, water and survival. Microbial antimicrobials abound in soil and valuable treasures await prospectors, as Waksman showed

When people think about soil they envision planting and growing, playing in or on , or washing it out. Selman Waksman, a Ukranian Jew, immigrated to America, earned a doctorate from Berkeley U in California and soon planted and grew (cultured) thousands of microbes from different soils on planet earth. He played in this earthy venture at Rutgers State University in New Jersey for over 40 years and retrieved from growth cultures some useful antibiotics including streptomycin, neomycin and actinomycin. Along the way Waksman earned a living and a Nobel Prize. It was a dirty task and an honest, inspired living.

Antimicrobial Biochemicals Living Soil Abundant Microbes Waksman and Soil

Dr. Waksman loved the soil. He loved the smell, texture, chemistry and microbiology of dirt. Science must be logical to be good science,but it also has passion and emotion . New finds, new cures, new problems all consume the fullest of the intellect , body and spirit. That is a driven lab characteristic of many great labs. Waksman’s lab was just that kind of lab.

The lab was stocked, filled with soils and equipment and the tools of microbiology. There were jars and containers of all kinds from everywhere, labelled and filled with common or exotic soils. Petri dishes with agar nutrients for growing the microbes, chemical jars and media of diverse types were everywhere. The Bunsen burners sterilize straight wires and loops which, when cooled, were used to transfer portions of the colonies to new media in agar tubes or plates, or flasks with liquid growth media.

This all took lots of people and money to do well and efficiently. The lab was like a beehive. There were major moments of intense concentration and labor, some moments to relax, and many discussions, seminars, meetings and conferences to keep all alert, focussed and current. Waksman was the taskmaster, director, leader, helmsman, conductor and administrator of this huge operation funded privately and federally by thousands and, later, millions of dollars.

Streptomycin griseus Isolation Characterization Testing- Streptomycin Discovered

One day, like a moment back in time out of Fleming’s or Pasteur’s life, it came- a culture, a test and the beginning of a new understanding. A mold-like organism was found lodged in a chicken’s throat and was cultured in the lab. Yes, good things can come out of strange places. Albert Schatz was 23, a graduate student and Ph.D. candidate. He subcultured and isolated Streptomyces griseus. The cultured organism showed another characteristic, it inhibited many other bacteria. Streptomycesgriseus was a bacterium that inhibited other bacteria. The earthly battle was evident- bacterium against bacterium. This was not the first time this was ever seen, but it was one of the most important. As a result of the energy and efforts of this devoted student, Albert Schatz, came the purfied antibiotic streptomycin.

Steptomycin Is a Broad-Spectrum Antibiotic Kills TB and Gram Positive and Negative Bacteria

A battery of tests began and different strains and species of bacteria were clearly inhibited by the grey colonies of bacteria. Remarkably, the streptomycin, as the prodcut became known, was effective against the tubercle bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis both in culture tubes and in TB patients. Penicillin, derived from a mold, was not effective against the TB bacillus, and man-made sulfa drugs were only somewhat effective.

Waksman Institute at Rutgers UWaksman received the Nobel Prize in 1952 for his discovery of streptomycin and other antibiotics. Dr Schatz’s contribution was not recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee. However, financial settlements and revenue sharing were later made by Waksman and Rutgers and an honorary award was given by the university years later. The Waksman Institute flourishes to this day with ongoing research in plant genetics, bio-reactor studies and cutting-edge microbiology.


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