What do the following people have in common; King Tut, Voltaire, John Keats, Emily Bronte, Paul Gauguin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adolph Hitler, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sidney Lanier, George Orwell, Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana and Cat Stevens? Okay, I will make the question easier and throw in John Henry Holiday. You probably know him as “Doc” Holiday, the gambler and gunfighter. Each of these people has had tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is the leading infectious cause of death in the world. TB is contagious and spreads through the air; if not treated, each person with active TB infects 10 to 15 people on average each year. The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people—one third of the world’s population—are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes TB. Each year, 10.4 million fall ill from TB and 1.8 million die from the disease. Tuberculosis now ranks alongside HIV as the world’s most deadly infectious disease. TB is caused by a bacterium and responds to antibiotics. But in the past, it was often a death sentence. The disease is now rare in the U.S., with only 200,000 cases a year. But in the developing world, it is still a scourge. The disease has been found in the remains of bison over 17,000 years old.
Albert Israel Schatz was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1920. He was raised on an isolated pitiable farm near Passaic, New Jersey. His father was a Russian Jew. His mother was English. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in soil microbiology. His interest in soil microbiology stemmed from his intention to become a farmer like his father. After graduation he became as a postgraduate research assistant working in the university’s soil microbiology laboratory. Within months, Schatz was drafted and worked as a bacteriologist at a military hospital in Florida until he was discharged due to problems with his back.
Returning to work under the direction of Selman Waksman, Albert Schatz volunteered to hunt for soilborn microorganisms that would kill or inhibit the growth of several penicillin-resistant bacteria including tubercle bacillus. Waksman had been directing a research program searching for new antibiotic compounds generated by microorganisms in soils since 1937. His teams were to discover more than ten such chemicals between 1940 and 1952. Seventy-four years ago, on October 19, 1943, Streptomycin was isolated. The discovery was…
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