Selman Abraham Waksman

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Waksman, Selman Abraham

Waksman, Selman Abraham (wäksˈmən), 1888–1973, American microbiologist, b. Priluka, Russia, grad. Rutgers (B.S. 1915), Ph.D. Univ. of California, 1918. He went to the United States in 1910 and was naturalized in 1916. He taught at Rutgers from 1918 and was a professor there from 1930. At the New Jersey State Agricultural Experiment station, where he became microbiologist in 1921, Waksman and his associates made studies of the decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms, of the origin and nature of humus, and of the production of substances detrimental to certain bacteria. He was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin and of its value in treating tuberculosis, but the discovery of the antibiotic actually was made by Albert Schatz, a graduate student working in Waksman's laboratory who had been recognized by Waksman and Rutgers as co-discoverer after a lawsuit. In addition to many scientific papers Waksman wrote Enzymes (with W. C Davison, 1926); Principles of Soil Microbiology (1927); The Soil and the Microbe (with R. L. Starkey, 1931); Humus (1936); Microbial Antagonisms and Antibiotic Substances (1945); The Conquest of Tuberculosis (1964); and The Actinomycetes (1967).


See study by P. Pringle (2012).

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Waksman, Selman Abraham


Born July 22, 1888, in Priluki, Ukraine; died Aug. 16, 1973, in Hyannis, Mass. American microbiologist. Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA from 1942 and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1948.

Waksman graduated as a day student from a Gymnasium in Odessa in 1910 and emigrated to the United States in the same year. He studied at the College of Agriculture of Rutgers University in 1915 and at the University of California from 1916 to 1918. He taught at Rutgers from 1918 to 1958, becoming professor in 1930 and head of the microbiology department in 1940. He served as director of the university’s Institute of Microbiology from 1949 to 1958. From 1931 to 1942 he was a department head at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Waksman’s main works are devoted to soil microbiology, the biology of actinomycetes and fungi, microbial antagonism, the role of microorganisms in the marine ecological cycle, and the classification of actinomycetes. Waksman discovered streptomycin in 1942, as well as a number of other antibiotics. He is the founder of the American school of microbiology.

Waksman was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1952.


Principles of Soil Microbiology. Baltimore, 1927.
My Life With the Microbes. New York, 1954.
The Actinomycetes, vols. 1–3. Baltimore, 1959–62.
In Russian translation:
Gumus: Proiskhozhdenie, khimicheskii sostav i znachenie ego v prirode. Moscow, 1937.
Antagonizm mikrobov i antibioticheskie veshchestva. Moscow, 1947.


“K 80-letiiu S. A. Vaksmana.” Antibiotiki, 1968, vol. 13, no. 8.
Scientific Contributions of Selman A. Waksman. Edited by H. B. Woodruff. New Brunswick, N.J., 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.