Sunday, 22 May 2005 - 11:00 AM

This presentation is part of: Biology

Streptomycin - Antibiotics from the Ground Up

Douglas Eveleigh, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Antibiotics are part of everyday living. We benefit from their use through prevention of infection of cuts and scratches, control of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and potentially of bioterrorist's pathogens, besides allowing the marvels of complex surgeries. Antibiotics are a wondrous medical weapon. But where do they come from? The unlikely answer is soil. Soil is home to a teeming population of insects and roots, plus billions of microbes - billions. But life is not harmonious in soil. Some microbes have evolved strategies to dominate their territory; one strategem is the production of antibiotics. In the 1940s, Selman Waksman, with his research team at Rutgers University, began the first ever search for such antibiotic producing micro-organisms amidst the thousands of soil microbes. The first antibiotics they discovered killed microbes but were toxic to humans. Then in 1943, came pay dirt! Albert Schatz, Elizabeth Bugie and Selman Waksman found streptomycin. It attacked the agents of tuberculosis, cholera, the Black Death and other pathogens against which penicillin was ineffective. Streptomycin spurred further searching, leading to the major development of the antibiotic industry. Antibiotics are the soil microbe's gift to medicine. As Selman Waksman said "Out of the Earth shall come thy Salvation."

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