Antibiotics from Dirt?

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antibiotics from dirt
Actinomycin D

There are many of us who would not be alive today if scientists had not discovered antibiotics. Yet those antibiotics have been discovered in the strangest places. Who isn’t familiar with the story of the discovery of penicillin in bread mold?

Yet there are stranger places where antibiotics have been found. Why pharmaceutical companies produce antibiotics originally developed from components of Earth’s soils. Antibiotics from dirt! In fact, untold millions of dollars have gone into their development and sales.

These medicines have saved many lives. Who was the man who thought this whole thing up? We’ll answer that, but first, let’s consider the basis for how such a crazy scheme as this could come to be, in the first place.

Getting Down and Dirty

Soil chemistry varies from place to place, from habitat to habitat. Bacteria and fungi vary because conditions and chemistry of the soil vary over small distances. New strains of fungus and bacteria are likely to be discovered. For this reason, soils are still being evaluated for new drug potential.

Antibiotics from Dirt: Who Was First?

antibiotics from dirt
Remember the controversy as to whether the Russians invented baseball? Well, it undeniably was a Russian immigrant who made the important soil microbiology discovery. And it was that same man who first coined the word antibiotic. A brief biography of that esteemed scientist, Dr. Selman Waksman is cited in the reference links below.

Dr. Waksman won the 1952 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Among the soil-based antibiotics he discovered were actinomycin, streptomycin, and neomycin. And, there were others. Researchers sometimes play hunches that certain soils may contain just what is needed to yield that next medical breakthrough. Antibiotics have added new, prophetic meaning to the expression “hitting pay dirt“.

Note: You might also enjoy Why Do My Fingernails Split Down the Middle?


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