The mass manufacture of penicillin during World War II stimulated urgent interest in other medicinally important soil microorganisms. Selman Waksman, chair of microbiology at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (Rutgers University) in the 1940s, had investigated the mycelial bacteria Actinomycetes since World War I, and had screened for several species that produced metabolites that inhibited other microbes.
Seen here in Waksman's notes are his April 1943 experiments with nutrient formulas for growing streptomycin-producing cultures. By fall 1943, Waksman had his lab group concentrating on the
when William Feldman and Corwin Hinshaw, visiting from the Mayo Clinic, presented a clinical trial opportunity for an anti-tuberculosis drug. Waksman assigned preparation for that task to his graduate students, chiefly Albert Schatz. Schatz soon isolated streptomycin, an aminoglycoside that inhibits protein synthesis, and tested it on the pathogen.
The US Patent Office issued a patent (No. 2,449,866; Sept. 21, 1948) to Waksman and Schatz for "streptomycin and process of preparation," which they assigned to the Rutgers Research and Endowment Foundation. Commercial development, however, created a rift between the inventors over royalty shares and, more vigorously, over who really deserved the greater credit for discovering streptomycin's importance.
Schatz sued Waksman and Rutgers to obtain a royalty-sharing agreement (10% to Waksman, 3% to Schatz, 7% to others involved in the discovery, and 80% to Rutgers). Waksman's solo 1952 Nobel Prize grieved Schatz to his death in 2005, though Rutgers awarded him its highest honor in 1994 as codiscoverer of streptomycin. Eventually, the Actinomycetes proved to be the most abundant source of naturally occurring antibiotics.