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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Vol. 80, No. 1, 2014; Pages: 02 - 08

Selman A. Waksman, Winner of the 1952 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine

H. Boyd Woodruff

Soil Microbiology Associates, Watchung, New Jersey, USA


The history of the discovery and development of streptomycin is reviewed here from the personal standpoint of a member of Dr. Selman Waksman's antibiotic screening research team. The team approach of eight individuals illustrates how the gradual enhancement of the screening methodology was developed. I illustrate three study periods with key aspects in the development of streptomycin which led to a Nobel Prize being granted to Professor Waksman. One item not previously emphasized is the employment of a submerged culture technique for large-scale production of streptomycin, thus enabling rapid animal testing and human clinical trials with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Another is that purified streptomycin was shown by Dr. Waksman to be distinctly different from the substances called natural products, which are no longer patentable in the United States; therefore, streptomycin was found to be patentable. A third item not previously emphasized is his emphasis on the screening of actinomycetes, including the newly named Streptomyces genus. All of these factors contributed to the success of streptomycin in the treatment of tuberculosis. In combination, their successes led to Dr. Waksman's department becoming a new pharmacological research area, specializing in drug discovery. These unique accomplishments all burnish the prior rationales used by the Karolinska Institute in granting Dr. Waksman alone the 1952 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

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