Beginning in the 1930s, Selman Waksman, Ph.D., and his students began the search for antibiotics produced from actinomycetes, microbes in the soil that are related to bacteria and fungi. The culmination was the isolation of streptomycin in 1943 by Albert Schatz, a graduate student of Waksman's, using soil screening methods developed by Waksman. This deliberate search for chemotherapeutic agents contrasts with the discovery of penicillin, which came through a chance observation by Alexander Fleming, who noted that a mold contaminant on a Petri dish culture had inhibited the growth of bacteria.
Streptomycin was the third antimicrobial agent isolated under Waksman's direction at Martin Hall at Cook College, Rutgers University. Streptomycin, however, was the first agent not toxic to humans, and it attacked a type of bacteria resistant to penicillin. In addition to treating tuberculosis, streptomycin was effective against typhoid fever, cholera, bubonic plague and other diseases. Among the other antibiotics isolated in Waksman's laboratory was neomycin, still used as a topical antibacterial agent.
William F. Carroll, Ph.D., president of the Society, will present a commemorative bronze plaque to Tim Casey, Ph.D., Dean of Academic and Student Programs at Cook College, Rutgers University. H. Boyd Woodruff, Ph.D., who isolated the first two actinomycete antibiotics, will be the featured speaker. The award presentation takes place in conjunction with the ACS Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting. The MARM meeting is being held on the nearby Busch Campus of Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey, May 22-25.