Albert Schatz (scientist)

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Albert Schatz
Albert Schatz.jpg
Albert Schatz
Albert Israel Schatz

(1920-02-02)2 February 1920
Died17 January 2005(2005-01-17) (aged 84)
Alma materRutgers University
Known forDiscoverer of streptomycin
Deprived of credit for discovery, leading to change in US laws
Spouse(s)Vivian Schatz (née Rosenfeld, married 1945)
ChildrenLinda Schatz
Diane Klein
Awards1994 Rutgers University Medal
Scientific career
Science education
InstitutionsBrooklyn College
National Agricultural College in Doylestown
University of Chile
Washington University
Temple University
Author abbrev. (botany)A.Schatz

Albert Israel Schatz (2 February 1920 – 17 January 2005) was an American microbiologist and science educator, best known as the discoverer[1] of the antibiotic streptomycin. Schatz graduated from Rutgers University in 1942 with a bachelor's degree in soil microbiology, and received his doctorate from Rutgers in 1945.

In 1943, as a 23-year-old postgraduate research assistant working in the university's soil microbiology laboratory under the direction of Selman Waksman, Schatz volunteered to search for soil-borne microorganisms that would kill or inhibit the growth of penicillin-resistant bacteria including tubercle bacillus, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). In three and a half months, he had isolated two distinct microorganisms excreting a substance (which he named "streptomycin") that stopped the growth of tubercle bacillus and several other penicillin-resistant bacteria in a Petri dish.[2][3]

Personal life[edit]

Schatz was born in Norwich, Connecticut and raised on a poor, isolated Passaic, New Jersey farm by his Russian Jewish émigré father and English mother. His initial interest in soil microbiology stemmed from his intention to become a farmer. Seeing workers being assaulted by the authorities during the Depression prompted him to lifelong socialism and humanitarianism. Vivian Rosenfeld, a student at New Jersey College for Women, and he were married in March 1945 and they had two daughters, Linda and Diane.[3][4] The couple were enthusiastic naturalists and environmentalists and they enjoyed the wilds of Vermont.

Schatz opposed the fluoridation of drinking water based on the biochemical impact of fluoride on tissue,[4] argued for a "proteolysis-chelation theory" of tooth decay that emphasized biochemical reactions of organic matter over the demineralization theory[4][5] and proposed a novel theory for the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs related to the evolution of plants and microbiology.[4]

Academic career[edit]

A fellow postgraduate student, Doris Ralston, described Schatz as "A poverty-stricken, brilliant student who worked with a burning intensity." He graduated from Rutgers University in 1942 and commenced working as a postgraduate assistant under the supervision of Selman Waksman, who led the soil microbiology department at Rutgers college of agriculture. Waksman had been directing a research program searching for new antibiotic compounds generated by microorganisms in ordinary soil since 1937, and his teams were to discover more than 10 such chemicals between 1940 and 1952. After five months, Schatz was conscripted, and worked as a bacteriologist at a military hospital in Florida until he was discharged due to back problems.[3]

On his return to Waksman's lab in 1943, Schatz offered to take on the search for an antibiotic effective against the tubercle bacillus (the bacterium that causes TB) and Gram-negative bacteria responsible for other penicillin-resistant diseases. Within three and a half months, he had identified two related strains of bacteria in the phylum Actinomycetes whose secretions stopped the growth of tubercle bacillus and several Gram-negative bacteria. One strain came from a throat swab from a healthy chicken, the other from heavily manured field soil. He named the antibiotic derived from these bacterial secretions "streptomycin."[3]

Toxicity tests, animal trials, and early clinical trials, for which Schatz produced the streptomycin, were conducted by Mayo Clinic and, by 1944, large clinical trials conducted by Merck in the UK and USA had proven streptomycin's effectiveness against TB, bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid fever, and other penicillin-resistant diseases.[3]

After leaving Rutgers in 1946, Schatz worked at Brooklyn College, and the National Agricultural College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He was a professor at the University of Chile from 1962 to 65, professor of education at Washington University from 1965 to 69, and professor of science education at Temple University from 1969 to '80.[2][4][6]

Streptomycin controversy[edit]

Schatz was lead author, with Waksman, on the paper that first reported the discovery of streptomycin, and the second author, with Waksman, on the streptomycin patent application. At Waksman's request, in 1946, Schatz signed over his right to royalties from the US streptomycin patent to the Rutgers Research and Endowment Foundation, and later signed over his foreign rights. He said he agreed to this so as to make streptomycin available as readily and inexpensively as possible, and he understood that the foundation, also, was to receive no profit from the discovery.[3]

Schatz began to feel that Waksman was playing down his (Schatz's) role in the discovery, and taking all the credit and recognition for their achievement. In 1949, it came out that Waksman, contrary to his public pronouncements, had a private agreement with the foundation giving him 20% of the royalties – which by then had amounted to $350,000 ($3,806,900 today) – so, in March 1950, Schatz sued Waksman and the foundation for a share of the royalties and recognition of his role in the discovery of streptomycin.[3]

An out-of-court settlement awarded Schatz $120,000 for the foreign patent rights, and 3% of the royalties, representing about $15,000 per annum for several years. Waksman conceded in court that Schatz, "is entitled to credit legally and scientifically as co-discoverer of streptomycin." Schatz was never again able to get work in a top-level microbiology lab.[3][7]

In October 1952, it was announced that Waksman would be awarded that year's Nobel prize for physiology or medicine for the discovery of streptomycin. After receiving letters from the vice president of the agricultural college where Schatz was working at the time, and others, the Nobel committee's wording of the actual award on 12 December 1952 was for, "ingenious, systematic and successful studies of the soil microbes that led to the discovery of streptomycin" rather than, "for the discovery of streptomycin" as the original announcement had said.[3]

When Milton Wainwright from Sheffield University arrived at Rutgers and interviewed faculty members for his 1990 book on antibiotics, Miracle Cure, asking questions about Schatz, it piqued the curiosity of some professors, who made their own inquiries and spoke with Schatz. Convinced that he had been the victim of an injustice, a group of professors, including Karl Maramorosch and Douglas Eveleigh, began to lobby for Schatz's rehabilitation, culminating in the 1994 awarding of the Rutgers University Medal, the university's highest honor, to Schatz.[3]

Awards, honors and tributes[edit]

Schatz received honorary degrees from Brazil, Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic. On the 50th anniversary of the discovery of streptomycin, in 1994, he was awarded the Rutgers University Medal. The New York Times placed Schatz and Waksman's 1948 streptomycin patent in the top 10 discoveries of the 20th century. The university has made Schatz's basement lab into a museum documenting his and other antibiotic discoveries made at the college.[6]


As a result of the streptomycin controversy, regulations were passed in the US aimed at ensuring graduate students get due recognition and reward for their contributions.[4] Albert Schatz's archives were donated to the Temple University Library.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zimmerman, Barry E., David J. (2002). Killer Germs (1 ed.). McGraw-Hill Education;(6 September 2002). p. 48. ISBN 978-0071409261.
  2. ^ a b Margalit Fox (2 February 2005). "Albert Schatz, Microbiologist, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Veronique Mistiaen (2 November 2002). "Time, and the great healer". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Milton Wainwright (4 February 2005). "Albert Schatz: Co-discoverer of streptomycin". The Independent. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  5. ^ Schatz A., Martin J. J. (September 1962). "The proteolysis-chelation theory of dental caries that emphasized the oral flora". J Am Dent Assoc. 65: 368–75. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.1962.0265. PMID 14498070.
  6. ^ a b "Albert Schatz, co-discoverer of streptomycin, dies at 84". Rutgers Focus. Rutgers University Relations. 21 February 2005. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  7. ^ "Dr. Schatz Wins 3% of Royalty; Named Co-Finder of Streptomycin; Key Figures in Streptomycin Discovery Suit". New York Times. 30 December 1950. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  8. ^ IPNI.  A.Schatz.

Further reading[edit]