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Experiment Eleven

Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug by Peter Pringle

By
12:40pm, June 15, 2012

In 1943, Rutgers graduate student Albert Schatz isolated two strains of bacteria that produced an unknown antibiotic. As World War II raged in Europe, tuberculosis and other diseases tore through refugee camps. New antibiotics were sorely needed, as Schatz, a former Army lab technician, knew well. He noted the new find under the heading “Exp. 11” in his lab notebook and shared his notes with his adviser, soil microbiologist Selman Waksman.

The antibiotic, streptomycin, became the first effective treatment for tuberculosis. As word of streptomycin’s success made its way into the papers, though, a strange thing happened. Schatz had made the discovery and performed the initial tests against TB, but Waksman alone received the credit. This wasn’t accidental. Waksman, Pringle writes, had launched “a furious and sometimes wacky campaign

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