The educational project “Personalities of the Russian Community Abroad. 1920-1945”

Selman Waksman

Selman Waksman

Selman Waksman

(1888 – 1973)

A microbiologist and biochemist, creator of antibiotics. Winner of the Nobel Prize. Born in 1888. He finished an Odessa gymnasium. In 1910 he moved to the USA where he studied biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1931 he was appointed a professor at the Rutgers University in New Jersey. In parallel, from 1931 to 1942 Waksman headed a division of Marine Bacteriology at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where he consulted governmental and industrial scientific institutions.

In 1941 Waksman introduced the term of “antibiotic” for chemicals derived from microorganisms killing malignant bacteria. Waksman’s laboratory created a number of antibiotics including actinomycin, clavacin and fumigacin.  Those chemicals appeared to be very toxic and ineffective. In 1942 streptothricin was developed and almost solved the task, i.e. it was effective against bacteria where penicillin did not work. Still, the antibiotic had certain toxicity level.  Finally, in 1943, streptomycin was developed. It was similar to streptothricin but it was less toxic. For the first time streptomycin was used to treat a human on May 12, 1945.

In 1950 Waksman was titled the Knight Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by France; he was included into the list of the most outstanding world figures. In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for the discovery of streptomycin. Arvid Volgren who awarded Waksman with the Nobel Prize called the scientist “one of the greatest benefactors to mankind”.


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