|Born||Selman Abraham Waksman
July 22, 1888
Nova Pryluka, near Kiev, Ukraine, Russian Empire
|Died||August 16, 1973
Woods Hole, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States
|Residence||Woods Hole, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States|
|Citizenship||United States of America (After 1916)|
|Fields||Biochemistry and Microbiology|
|Alma mater||Rutgers University
University of California, Berkeley
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1952)
Leeuwenhoek Medal (1950)
|Spouse||Deborah B. Mitnik (1 child)|
Selman Abraham Waksman (July 22, 1888 – August 16, 1973) was a Jewish-Ukrainian-American inventor, biochemist and microbiologist whose research into organic substances—largely into organisms that live in soil—and their decomposition promoted the discovery of Streptomycin, and several other antibiotics. A professor of biochemistry and microbiology at Rutgers University for four decades, he discovered over twenty antibiotics (a word which he coined) and introduced procedures that have led to the development of many others. The proceeds earned from the licensing of his patents funded a foundation for microbiological research, which established the Waksman Institute of Microbiology located on Rutgers University's Busch Campus in Piscataway, New Jersey (USA). In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition "for his discovery of "streptomycin," the first antibiotic active against tuberculosis." Waksman was later accused of fraud by Albert Schatz, a PhD student working in his lab – who published the first paper on Streptomycin with Waksman as the secondary co-author.
In 2005 Selman Waksman was designated an ACS National Historical Chemical Landmark in recognition of the significant work of his lab in isolating more than fifteen antibiotics, including streptomycin, which was the first effective treatment for tuberculosis.
Selman Waksman was born on July 22, 1888, to Jewish parents, in Nova Pryluka, Podolia Governorate, in the Russian Empire, now Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine. He was the son of Fradia (London) and Jacob Waksman. He immigrated to the United States in 1910, shortly after receiving his matriculation diploma from the Fifth Gymnasium in Odessa, and became a naturalised American citizen six years later.
Waksman attended Rutgers College (now Rutgers University), where he was graduated in 1915 with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Agriculture. He continued his studies at Rutgers, receiving a Master of Science (MSc) the following year. During his graduate study, he worked under J. G. Lipman at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers performing research in soil bacteriology. Waksman was then appointed as Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley from where he was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biochemistry in 1918.
Later he joined the faculty at Rutgers University in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. It was at Rutgers that Waksman's team discovered several antibiotics, including actinomycin, clavacin, streptothricin, streptomycin, grisein, neomycin, fradicin, candicidin, candidin, and others. Two of these, streptomycin and neomycin, have found extensive application in the treatment of numerous infectious diseases. Streptomycin was the first antibiotic that could be used to cure the disease tuberculosis. Waksman coined the term antibiotics.
Many awards and honors were showered on Waksman after 1940, most notably the Nobel Prize in 1952; the Star of the Rising Sun, bestowed on him by the emperor of Japan, and the rank of Commandeur in the French Légion d'honneur.
Selman Waksman died on August 16, 1973 and was interred at the Crowell Cemetery in Woods Hole, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. His tombstone is inscribed simply as Selman Abraham Waksman: Scientist, followed by his dates of birth and death, and the phrase "The earth will open and bring forth salvation" in Hebrew and English, which is a reference to Isaiah 45:8.
He was the father of Byron Waksman, involved in Multiple sclerosis research .
Other little known contributions of Selman Waksman include anti-fouling paints for the Navy, the use of enzymes in detergents, and the use of Concord grape root stock to protect the French Vineyards from fungal infection.
Waksman had been studying the Streptomyces family of organism since his college student days and had, for a time, been studying the organism Streptomyces griseus. Streptomycin was isolated from S. griseus and found effective against tuberculosis by one of Waksman's graduate students, Albert Schatz.
The details and credit for the discovery of streptomycin and its usefulness as an antibiotic were strongly contested by Schatz, eventually leading to litigation. Waksman and Rutgers settled out of court with Schatz, resulting in financial remuneration and entitlement to "legal and scientific credit as co-discoverer of streptomycin."
Systematic experiments to test several strains of antibiotic against several different disease organisms were under way in Waksman's laboratory at the time. Their classic approach was to explore a complete matrix with rows consisting of antibiotics and columns consisting of different diseases. The bacteria which produced the antibiotic streptomycin was discovered by Schatz in the farmland outside his lab, and tested by him. Waksman, however, eventually came to claim sole credit for the discovery.
In 2010, in researching his book on the discovery of streptomycin, Peter Pringle began looking for Dr. Schatz's missing notebooks in the libraries and laboratories of Rutgers University, but found nothing. With the help of Erika Gorder, a member of the team of Thomas J. Frusciano, the head archivist of the Alexander Library special collections, he was able to find five clothbound notebooks marked “Albert Schatz.” In the notebook for 1943, on Page 32, Dr. Schatz had started Experiment 11, "Antagonistic Actinomycetes" on August 23rd. This was a reference to the strange threadlike microbes found in the soil that produce antibiotics. Underneath the title he recorded where he had found the microbes in “leaf compost, straw compost and stable manure” on the Rutgers College farm, outside his laboratory. The following pages detailed his experiments and his discovery of two strains of a gray-green actinomycete named Streptomyces griseus, Latin for gray. Each strain produced an antibiotic that destroyed germs of E. coli in a petri dish — and, he was to find out later, also destroyed the TB germ. The notebook shows that the moment of discovery belongs to Dr. Schatz and not Dr. Waksman. 
Waksman was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1952 "for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis." In the award speech, Waksman was called "one of the greatest benefactors to mankind," as the result of the discovery of streptomycin. Schatz protested being left out of the award, but the Nobel committee ruled that he was a mere lab assistant working under an eminent scientist.
In 1951, using half of his personal patent royalties, Waksman created the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology. At a meeting of the board of Trustees of the Foundation, held in July 1951 he urged the building of a facility for work in microbiology, named the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, which is located on the Busch campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. First president of the Foundation, Waksman was succeeded in this position by his son, Byron H. Waksman, from 1970 to 2000.
- Enzymes (1926)
- Humus: origin, chemical composition, and importance in nature (1936, 1938)
- Principles of Soil Microbiology (1938)
- My Life with the Microbes (1954) (an autobiography)
- "Selman Waksman and Antibiotics". National Historic Chemical Landmarks. American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
- "The Foundation and Its History". waksmanfoundation.org (No further authorship information available). Retrieved January 11, 2007.
- ["Dr. Selman Waksman". The Waksman Institute at Rutgers website (No further authorship information available). Retrieved January 17, 2008.
- This verse is significantly different from the original text of Isaiah 45:8 which states, in the King James Version, as "Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it."
- Andrew Jack (April 14, 2012). "Germ warfare". Financial Times.
- "The Schatz v. Waksman Lawsuit – 1950". scc.rutgers.edu.
- Pringle, Peter (June 11, 2012). "Notebooks Shed Light on a Discovery, and a Mentor's Betrayal". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
- Mistiaen, Veronique (November 2, 2002). "Time, and the great healer.". London: The Guardian. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
The story of streptomycin – of scientific triumphs, all-too-human scientists and a long quest for justice – lies somewhere between these two men.
- "Man of the Soil". Time (magazine). April 4, 1949.
- Official Notice of Award
- Award Ceremony Speech
- "Foundation History".
- "Waksman Foundation for Microbiology homepage".
- "Selman A Walksman Award". Retrieved July 29, 2012.
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- No Nobel for You – Top 10 Nobel Snubs, Scientific American