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February 22: Streptomycin vs. TB

Lawrence Bush
February 22, 2010

180px-TB_posterOn this day in 1946, Dr. Selman Abraham Waksman announced his discovery of streptomycin, an antibiotic derived from organisms found in soil. It was the first medicine to control tuberculosis, the endemic disease of the urban poor, and was also effective against typhoid fever, cholera, bubonic plague and other killing diseases. (Streptomycin was first isolated three years earlier by Alfred Schatz, a graduate student in Waksman’s laboratory at Rutgers University, who eventually litigated and received a substantial settlement.) Waksman was born in the Ukraine in 1888 and received a yeshiva education before coming to America in 1910. He coined the term “antibiotics” and discovered twenty of them in the course of his career. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952.
“The earth will open and bring forth salvation.”—from Isaiah, carved in Hebrew and English on Waksman’s tombstone

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.