Waksman, Selman A. (Selman Abraham), 1888-1973

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1888-07-22
Death 1973-08-16
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Microbiologist.

From the description of Selman A. Waksman papers, 1915-1960. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980240

Selman Abraham Waksman was born in Priluka, Russia, on July 22, 1888 to the merchant Jacob Waksman and his wife Fradia (London). Waksman graduated from the Fifth Gymnasium in Odessa, Russia, and came to the United States in 1910. He entered Rutgers College in 1911, where he worked under another Russian emigré, Dr. Jacob G. Lipman, whose primary research was on soil microbiology. Waksman graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1915 and received a Master of Science the following year, at which time he also became a naturalized citizen. In 1916, Waksman married a young woman he had known in Russia, Deborah Mitnik, and entered the University of California at Berkeley to study biochemistry. He received his Doctorate in 1918, having supported his graduate study by working part-time at the Cutter Biological Laboratories in Berkeley.

Waksman returned to Rutgers in 1918 and began working as a microbiologist in the department of soil chemistry and bacteriology at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. He also held an appointment as a lecturer at Rutgers. Until 1920 Waksman also worked part-time as a bacteriologist for the Takamine Laboratories in Clifton, New Jersey, in order to supplement his income. Waksman became an associate professor at Rutgers in 1924 and achieved the rank of full professor in 1930. The following year he also became associated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, where he organized the division of marine bacteriology. Waksman, who became head of the newly organized Department of Microbiology at Rutgers in 1942, also continued to serve as microbiologist of the Agricultural Experiment Station until 1954 when he became director of the newly established Institute of Microbiology of Rutgers University, which was founded with proceeds from the sale of patent rights to Waksman's discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin and largely funded through royalties from his various patents.

As a microbiologist, Waksman concerned himself primarily with soil organisms. His marine studies at Woods Hole were similarly concerned with microorganisms in the sea. Waksman became a leading authority on the soil organisms known as actinomycetes and his most significant work was the isolation of a number of antibiotics from these organisms. The most important of these was streptomycin, isolated in 1942, which revolutionized the treatment of tuberculosis and for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952. Altogether Waksman and his associates isolated twenty-two antibiotics, including actinomycin (1940), neomycin (1949), and candicin (1953). Besides his work on soil organisms and antibiotics, a term coined by Waksman, he also did notable work on such subjects as the production of enzymes and organic acids, on the decomposition of organic matter, including the building of humus and the utilization of peat, on edible fungi, on fermentation, and on the role of microorganisms in metal corrosion. Waksman's work resulted in the publication of some 500 authored and coauthored papers. He also wrote or edited twenty-eight books; among them were historical works on microbiology and three biographies, including one on his mentor Jacob Lipman.

In 1958 Waksman retired as director of the Institute of Microbiology, but remained at the university as professor emeritus with an office and research laboratory under his direction. There he also worked on cancer research. During his long teaching career seventy-seven of his students were awarded graduate degrees; the most renowned of whom was Rene Dubos, who isolated the first medicine from soil bacteria to fight pneumonia. Dubos's research helped inspired Waksman's own studies of antibiotics. Waksman died on August 16, 1973 and was buried in Woods Hole.

From the description of Selman A. Waksman papers, 1916-1977. (Rutgers University). WorldCat record id: 187862391

Albert Francis Blakeslee, a geneticist and botanist, served as the director of Smith College Genetics Experiment Station from 1943-1954.

Albert Blakeslee's boyhood was spent in East Greenwich, Connecticut, where he early exhibited a strong liking for natural history. This leaning was not encouraged by his pragmatic father, who wanted the boy's education to plan for a financially independent career; but his mother was more sympathetic. After the two years of teaching at Montpelier Academy in Vermont, his natural inclinations were not to be denied, and he entered graduate study at Harvard with a determination to become a botanist. His Harvard professors, Farlow and Thaxter, greatly helped Blakeslee's development as a botanist. He engaged in a classification of the Mucors and discovered the positive and (sexual) zygospores and observed their sexual fusion to start the diploid phase of the Mucor life cycle. His summer in Venezuela as a plant collector for the Harvard Cryptogamic Herbarium (1903) and his two summers of teaching nature study in the Cold Spring Harbor courses broadened his knowledge of plants and generated in him a deep love of teaching. Thus, when he went to Germany for a postdoctoral fellowship in 1904, he was already becoming well known as a botanist.

At the University of Halle he worked under the distinguished mycologist Klebs for two years, with some stay during the period at the Universities of Berlin, Leipzig, and Oxford. This fellowship was supported by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Blakeslee became fluent in the German language, as became apparent in later years when such a distinguished authority as Erwin Baur, plant geneticist, sent to Blakeslee in preference to any other English-speaking biologist a copy of his proposed publication on the dysgenic effects upon German life and culture of the post-war occupation of Germany's Rhineland by the French. Baur requested Blakeslee to be so good as to translate the communication into good English, edit it, and submit it for him to some American journal, such as Eugenical Notes, edited by Davenport. The original manuscript by Baur, the translation and very extensive editing -- really a toning down -- by Blakeslee, and the subsequent letter of withdrawal of the communication by Baur are all in the Blakeslee Papers, an invaluable addition to our knowledge of the course of German eugenics in the period between the two World Wars (see B. Glass, "A Hidden Chapter of German eugenics between the two World Wars," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 125: 357-367, 1981). While in Germany Blakeslee spent much time in art museums and attendance at concerts, and formed cultural tastes that were a lifelong joy to him.

Upon returning from Germany, Blakeslee accepted an appointment as professor of botany at the Connecticut Agricultural College, later to become the University of Connecticut. He taught many courses, in summer as well as during the regular year, and collaborated with C.D. Jervis in two popular handbooks for the identification of trees in New England and in winter. He made crosses of tree species, and successfully produced the first interspecific hybrid pine. His broad concern with social applications of botany and with teaching are to be seen in his paper presented in an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium in 1909 on the subject, "The Botanic Garden as a Field Museum of Agriculture." He also conducted research on the genetics of poultry, and found certain genetic traits with visible effects that were linked with high egg yield; also he uncovered a negative correlation between yellow color and the time of a year when the last egg is laid. He discovered that Rudbeckia hirta, the black-eyed Susan, is a frequently mutating species. Beginning what was to become his most famous genetical work, that with the jimson weed, Datura stramonium, he worked out the simple Mendelian inheritance of white versus purple flower color and of spiny versus smooth seed capsules. In 1914-1915, he gave, at Storrs, the first college course in genetics in the United States. Also, while on leave and at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a research investigator, he resumed his early work on the Mucors; and in Datura found, in 1913, his first trisomic type, the "Globe" seedpod type, which has 2N + 1 chromosomes.

In 1915 Blakeslee was invited by C. B. Davenport, Director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor, to fill the place just vacated by George Harrison Shull, who was transferring to Princeton University. Blakeslee accepted, although he much regretted the loss of his opportunities to teach. He remained at Cold Spring Harbor until he retired in 1941, at the age of 67. He became greatly renowned for his work on Datura stramonium, in which he eventually found a trisomic type for every one of the twelve chromosome pairs in the species, each type recognizable by a distinctive phenotype of the seed capsule. With his assistants, he raised as many as 70,000 Datura plants in each summer. In 1920, he was joined by John Belling, a gifted cytologist, as his collaborator. They developed the skilled art of making acetocarmine stains of smeared plant chromosomes, a technique that became universally adopted as an enormous time-saver and also one productive of better microscopic differentiation of the chromosomes in the set. The typical chromosome numbers for many species of flowering plants were determined by the team.

In 1924, Dorothy Bergner replaced John Belling as Blakeslee's principal coworker. With Bergner, Blakeslee discovered a thirteenth trisomic in Datura. As there are only 12 chromosome pairs, a different explanation was sought, and found. There are also secondary trisomics, in which one arm of a primary chromosome has been doubled while its other arm is missing. Such a chromosome, added to the 12 types in which an entire chromosome is extra, greatly increases the diversity of chromosomal types. In search of the origin of these secondaries, numerous translocation types were found, types in which parts of two primary chromosomes had undergone a reciprocal interchange. In the pairing of homologous chromosomes that takes place during meiosis, these aberrations give rise to rings of four associated chromosomes, two normal plus two translocation chromosomes in the ring. Non-disjunction is a frequent consequence, and additional types of trisomics result. The discovery in natural populations of so much chromosomal diversity was a stepping-stone to the new evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s. Polyploid and triploid Daturas were also found, as populations from various parts of the world were analyzed. In 1937 it was discovered that colchicine will paralyze mitotic cell division and give rise to cells in which the chromosome number has been doubled. Using this technique, Blakeslee and Bergner produced polyploids, periclinal chimeras; and a new research assistant, Sophie Satina, collaborated in working out cell lineages during plant development.

Other collaborations, going back many years, were with E.W. Sinnott on quantitative inheritance, with I.T. Buchholz on pollen tube growth, with C.S. Gager on the use of radium to produce mutations. By means of exposures to radium or X-rays, 541 different gene loci were identified by mutation, 81 of which were mapped to a specific chromosome. It was also found that there was an increase of mutations during the storage of seeds. With I. van Overbeek, Blakeslee applied the techniques of tissue culture to the study of Datura genetic types.

In 1931, Blakeslee became deeply interested in the human inheritance of taste sensitivity to a chemical substance, PTC (phenylthiocarbamide). It is intensely bitter to most persons, but tasteless to others. Blakeslee checked this capacity in identical twins and found they were always similar in their capacity to taste PTC, or inability to taste it. He gave many popular lectures and demonstrations of this novel aspect of human heredity.

Blakeslee became involved in the administration of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as early as 1923, and moved to greater and greater responsibility as Davenport aged. Upon Davenport's retirement in 1936, Blakeslee was the natural choice to succeed him. By this time he was one of America's foremost geneticists. He had helped to reorganize the American Journal of Botany in 1935, had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to the American Philosophical Society, and had been honored by many foreign scientific and learned organizations.

Upon retiring at Cold Spring Harbor, Blakeslee spent two years as a research associate at Columbia University, but found in 1942 an ideal situation for his "retirement" years in an appointment as a visiting professor at Smith College. Here he started up a four-college conference (Smith College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and Massachusetts State College -- later the University of Massachusetts) on Genetics, and a second on Human Relations. He initiated an active program of genetics at Smith College. With Miss Satina, he continued research on Datura by utilizing the technique of raising plant embryos in cell culture, in order to determine at what stage of development particular abnormal types led to deviations from normality, and just what they were. He became president of the Smith College Faculty Club, and worked to improve the conditions of retired faculty members. He spent much effort on human relations of the town-gown sort. As in previous periods of his life, he attended many foreign scientific congresses, for example, all of the Botanical Congresses (until 1950), and the Indian Scientific Congress in 1947. He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University in 1948-1949. Upon his death, he left his estate to the National Academy of Sciences as trustee to provide continued assistance in maintaining and further developing a balanced genetics research program at Smith College. His personality was marked by great versatility, good humor, and a live social conscience. He was generous in giving credit to others in joint activities, yet in general somewhat reticent. These traits are reflected in some of his correspondence.

From the guide to the Albert Francis Blakeslee papers, 1904-1954, 1904-1954, (American Philosophical Society)

Max Bergmann (February 12, 1886-November 7, 1944) was a biochemist, whose research proved key for the study of biochemical processes. His work on peptide synthesis and protein splitting provided a starting point for modern protein chemistry and the study of enzyme-substrate interactions. He is most noted for developing the carbobenzoxy protecting group, for the synthesis of oligopeptides, using any amino acid in any sequence. He co-authored with his colleague Joseph S. Fruton (1912-2007, APS 1967) several reviews in protein and enzyme chemistry, notably “Proteolytic Enzymes,” in the Annual Review of Biochemistry 10 (1941): 31-46 and “The Specificity of Proteinases,” in Advances in Enzymology 1 (1941): 63-98.

Bergmann was born in Fürth, Germany, the son of a coal merchant named Solomon Bergmann and his wife Rosalie Stettauer. He entered the University of Munich, initially interested in botany, but shifted to chemistry, after being convinced that biological questions could only be answered by the methods of organic chemistry. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1907, and afterward became a student of Emil Fischer (1838-1914, APS 1909), the foremost protein and carbohydrate chemist of the day at the University of Berlin. In 1911 Bergmann received a Ph.D. with a dissertation on acyl polysulfides and became Fischer’s research assistant. In 1912 Bergmann married Emmy Miriam Grunwald with whom he had two children. The marriage ended in divorce, and he remarried Martha Suter in 1926. During World War I Bergmann was exempted from military service because of his research work with Fischer. While working with Fischer, Bergmann made important contributions to carbohydrate, lipid, tannin and amino acid chemistry, developing new methods for the preparation of α-monoglycerides. In 1920 Bergmann was appointed Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and head of the chemistry department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Textile Research.

Bergmann left the University of Berlin in 1921 to become the director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Leather Research and Professor of chemistry at the Dresden Technical University. At Dresden, Bergmann created one of the world’s leading laboratories for the study of protein chemistry. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Bergmann, a Jew, emigrated to the United States. From 1934 until his death Bergmann was affiliated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York.

Bergmann represents the tradition of German organic chemistry applied to biological problems. Working with his mentor Fischer, who sought effective methods to separate and identify amino acids, and who identified the peptide bond as the structure that connects amino acids, Bergmann made many basic contributions to protein and amino acid chemistry. In Dresden he extended Fischer’s work of separating and identifying the amino acid constituents of proteins. In order to establish the conjecture of some protein chemists that proteins were, in fact, polypeptides, containing thousands of amino acids, Bergmann developed new methods of peptide synthesis. The most important discovery came in 1932, when he and his colleague Leonidas Zervas created the carbobenzoxy method allowing them to use any amino acid in any sequence to produce peptides and polypeptides that closely resembled naturally occurring proteins.

Bergmann continued this work in New York at the Rockefeller Institute, stressing two new lines of research: (1) expanding the carbobenzoxy method to form peptides that could serve as substrates for protein-splitting enzymes, and (2) unraveling the total structure of proteins. After becoming head of the chemistry laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in 1937, Bergmann recruited several talented biochemists. Along with his colleague Joseph Fruton, he discovered the first synthetic peptide substrates for which several enzymes were catalysts. When they demonstrated that the enzyme pepsin was able to catalyze the hydrolysis of synthetic peptides, they implicated the peptide bond in protein structure, but also provided the first clear evidence that specific enzymes split peptides at exact linkages in the chain. Their discovery cleared the path for study of how enzymes act as catalysts for every biological function.

Bergmann’s methods of analysis and synthesis proved incapable of solving the riddle of protein structure. He applied methods for separation and quantitative analysis to every amino acid in a protein in an attempt to establish their sequence in the polypeptide chain. In 1938 he proposed a theory of the systematic recurrence in the location of every amino acid residue in the peptide chain of a protein. However, his hypothesis proved an oversimplification. Two biochemists in his working group, Standford Moore and William Stein, showed him that the analytical data did not support his “periodic theory,” and Bergmann was forced to abandon it. Moore and Stein later collaborated in developing novel methods for quantitative analysis of amino acids in protein hydrolysates, methods they perfected after World War II. By 1949 it was possible to determine the order of the links of each amino acid in a protein. The Englishman Frederick Sanger was the first to establish the complete amino acid sequence in a protein, the hormone insulin. Moore and Stein followed by identifying the sequence of a more complex protein, the enzyme ribonuclease.

Bergman died of cancer in New York City on November 7, 1944. His mastery of peptide synthesis and protein splitting constituted the beginnings of modern protein chemistry. Bringing to the United States a background in German organic chemistry, he laid the foundations for the work of others, who would fulfill Bergmann’s goal of understanding and mapping the molecular structure of proteins and enzymes. His research colleagues found him a supportive leader and collaborator. He coauthored a number of publications with other members of his research group.

From the guide to the Max Bergmann papers, [ca. 1930]-1945, 1930-1945, (American Philosophical Society)

Selman Abraham Waksman was born in Priluka, Russia, on July 22, 1888 to the merchant Jacob Waksman and his wife Fradia (London). Waksman graduated from the Fifth Gymnasium in Odessa, Russia, and came to the United States in 1910. He entered Rutgers College in 1911, where he worked under another Russian emigré, Dr. Jacob G. Lipman, whose primary research was on soil microbiology. Waksman graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1915 and received a Master of Science the following year, at which time he also became a naturalized citizen. In 1916, Waksman married a young woman he had known in Russia, Deborah Mitnik, and entered the University of California at Berkeley to study biochemistry. He received his Doctorate in 1918, having supported his graduate study by working part-time at the Cutter Biological Laboratories in Berkeley.

Waksman returned to Rutgers in 1918 and began working as a microbiologist in the department of soil chemistry and bacteriology at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. He also held an appointment as a lecturer at Rutgers. Until 1920 Waksman also worked part-time as a bacteriologist for the Takamine Laboratories in Clifton, New Jersey, in order to supplement his income. Waksman became an associate professor at Rutgers in 1924 and achieved the rank of full professor in 1930. The following year he also became associated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, where he organized the division of marine bacteriology. Waksman, who became head of the newly organized Department of Microbiology at Rutgers in 1942, also continued to serve as microbiologist of the Agricultural Experiment Station until 1954 when he became director of the newly established Institute of Microbiology of Rutgers University, which was founded with proceeds from the sale of patent rights to Waksman's discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin and largely funded through royalties from his various patents.

As a microbiologist, Waksman concerned himself primarily with soil organisms. His marine studies at Woods Hole were similarly concerned with microorganisms in the sea. Waksman became a leading authority on the soil organisms known as actinomycetes and his most significant work was the isolation of a number of antibiotics from these organisms. The most important of these was streptomycin, isolated in 1942, which revolutionized the treatment of tuberculosis and for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952. Altogether Waksman and his associates isolated twenty-two antibiotics, including actinomycin (1940), neomycin (1949), and candicin (1953). Besides his work on soil organisms and antibiotics, a term coined by Waksman, he also did notable work on such subjects as the production of enzymes and organic acids, on the decomposition of organic matter, including the building of humus and the utilization of peat, on edible fungi, on fermentation, and on the role of microorganisms in metal corrosion. Waksman's work resulted in the publication of some 500 authored and coauthored papers. He also wrote or edited twenty-eight books; among them were historical works on microbiology and three biographies, including one on his mentor Jacob Lipman.

From the beginning of his career Waksman showed a keen interest in the practical applications of his research. During World War II he served as a civilian member of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the National Research Council. His most significant practical contributions were as a consultant to Merck and Company in 1938, for whom he patented a number of organic acids and antibiotics. Rutgers benefitted from Waksman's association with Merck through royalties as well as the establishment of a fellowship in the Department of Soils. Waksman later convinced Merck to relinquish its exclusive rights to streptomycin and allow the university to license it to other pharmaceutical companies. The large royalties for the drug patent were used by the Rutgers Research and Educational Foundation, of which Waksman was the director, to establish and fund the Institute for Microbiology. After his retirement as director it was renamed the Waksman Institute of Microbiology in his honor.

Waksman, who became wealthy from his patent royalties, used the proceeds in a number of philanthropic ventures. He established the Foundation for Microbiology to award research grants and scholarships in the field. Similar Waksman Foundations were established in Japan and France from foreign rights to streptomycin and neomycin in order to support microbiology research in those countries. He also established a fund to enable immigrants or their children to study agriculture at Rutgers, and his wife established a scholarship fund for music students at Douglass College. A scholar of Jewish history and a strong supporter of the state of Israel, Waksman was also involved in the establishment of the Institute of General and Industrial Microbiology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Waksman received numerous honors and awards for his scientific work. The most notable of these was, of course, his Nobel Prize. Among others he was also awarded the rank of commander of the French Legion of Honor; the Leeuwenhoek Medal of the Netherlands Academy of Sciences; the Emile Christian Hansen Prize of the Carlsberg Laboratorium, Copenhagen, Denmark; the Mary Lasker Award of the American Public Health Association, the Amory Award of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and honorary degrees from many American and foreign universities. Waksman was prominent in the international scientific community and was a member of several scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, the International and American Soil Science and Societies, the Society of American Bacteriologists, the Mycological Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, and the French Academy of Sciences. His many honorary memberships included those in the French and Swedish Academies of Agriculture, the Kaiserlich-Deutsche Akademie der Naturtorscher, the Royal Scientific Society of Upsala, Real Academia de Farmacia of Madrid, Israel Microbiological Society, La Sociedad de Historia Natural of Mexico, the Society of Biological Chemists in India, and the Brazilian Chemical Society.

In 1958 Waksman retired as director of the Institute of Microbiology, but remained at the university as professor emeritus with an office and research laboratory under his direction. There he also worked on cancer research. During his long teaching career seventy-seven of his students were awarded graduate degrees; the most renowned of whom was Rene Dubos, who isolated the first medicine from soil bacteria to fight pneumonia. Dubos's research helped inspired Waksman's own studies of antibiotics. Waksman died on August 16, 1973 and was buried in Woods Hole.

From the guide to the Guide to the Selman A. Waksman Papers, 1916-1977, (Rutgers University Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives.)

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Subjects:

  • Microbiology--New Jersey--History--20th century
  • Chemistry--United States
  • Scientists, Refugee
  • Patent suits
  • Genetics--Research
  • Microbiology
  • Horticulture
  • Universities and colleges--New Jersey
  • Political refugees
  • Peat
  • Bacteriology--Cultures and culture media
  • Beans--Research
  • Streptomycin
  • Blood groups
  • Biochemistry--United States
  • Scientists--United States
  • Universities and colleges
  • Embryology
  • Teacher-student relationships
  • Tuberculosis
  • Microbiology--History--20th century
  • Tuberculosis--Treatment
  • Actinomycin
  • Science--Societies, etc
  • Jewish scientists
  • Microbiology--New Jersey--History--19th century
  • Microbiology--History--19th century
  • Soil microbiology
  • Plant-soil relationships
  • Plants--Nutrition
  • Antibiotics
  • Universities and colleges--California
  • Antibiotics--History
  • Enzymes
  • Neomycin
  • Actinomycetales
  • Geneticists--United States
  • Datura
  • Microorganisms
  • Colchicine--Research

Occupations:

  • Microbiologists
  • Biochemists--United States

Places:

  • Germany (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • New Jersey (as recorded)
  • New Jersey (as recorded)