Medicine: Man of the Soil

People are always asking greying Microbiologist Selman Abraham Waksman, 60, how he discovered the wonder drug streptomycin in 1943. Modest Dr. Waksman (rhymes with phlox-man) has a stock answer which makes it sound pretty simple. He merely examined about 10,000 cultures, he explains. Only 1,000 would kill bacteria in preliminary tests; only 100 looked promising in later tests; only ten were isolated and described; one of the ten proved to be streptomycin. It just happened that streptomycin was the first effective drug that doctors had ever found to fight tuberculosis.

Dr. Waksman's slow,...

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