Biography of Albert Schatz
Albert Schatz was a 23 year-old graduate student working on his Ph.D. at
Rutgers University when he discovered streptomycin, the first antibiotic
effective against tuberculosis. This disease killed over a
billion people in the last two centuries and was responsible for
the death of more people throughout history than all other infectious
diseases combined. Streptomycin was also the first effective treatment
for bubonic plague, known as The Black Death, tularemia, brucellosis and
other serious infectious diseases for which there had been no effective
treatment. Streptomycin has saved millions of lives, and many people
personally thanked Professor Schatz for having saved their lives.
Albert Schatz was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1920, and grew up in
Passaic, New Jersey. He spent a lot of
his early years on his grandparents' farm in Bozrah, Connecticut. Until the end of his life, he took great pride in all the experiences he
had and the skills he learned on the farm. He could sharpen many kinds
of tools, fix almost anything, milk a cow, and warm himself under his
bear skin blanket from the days the family farm used a horse and sleigh
in winter to take the cans of milk to the main road. "Eat it up. Wear it
out. Make it do. Do without." was the motto his family used to help
survive the depression of the late 20's and 30's.
He graduated from Passaic High School in 1938 and was able to go to
college because his father received a World War I bonus
check. His love for the soil that began in his early years on the farm
led him to choose the College of Agriculture at Rutgers University in
New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year
and was "top man" in his class when he graduated in May 1942. He
immediately began graduate work in the Soil Microbiology laboratory of
Dr. Selman A. Waksman at the Rutgers College of Agriculture.
He was drafted into the Medical Corps of the Air Force in November 1942.
It was there that he became aware of the tragic deaths of soldiers who
had gram negative bacterial infections that were not treatable by
penicillin or sulfa drugs – the only antibiotics available at that time.
"I saw servicemen dying of these infections. They were men my own age. I
got to know them," Schatz said.
When he was not working as a bacteriologist at the Air Force hospital where he
was stationed, he devoted all of his spare time to the search for an
antibiotic against gram negative organisms. He was discharged from the Air Force
in June, 1943, because of a back injury and returned to Rutgers to
resume his graduate work. He refocused his work so he could
continue the search for an antibiotic that would be effective against
gram negative infections.
Shortly after Albert Schatz resumed his graduate work, Drs. H. Corwin Hinshaw and William Feldman of the Mayo
Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, asked Dr. Waksman to look for an antibiotic
against tuberculosis. Dr. Waksman was reluctant to take on the search because of the virulent nature of
the organism. But Schatz had seen the tragic deaths of neighbors
consumed by tuberculosis. "When I was a boy," he reflected later, "I
knew children at school and neighbors who had tuberculosis. I saw them
lose weight and waste away. None of them could go to a sanatorium, so
they remained home, coughed and infected others." Schatz agreed to add
the search for a cure for tuberculosis to his ongoing research.
When Prof. Waksman received a test tube with the virulent strain of
human tuberculosis from the Mayo Clinic, he gave the test tube to
Schatz. He then isolated Schatz in a basement laboratory – far away from the safety of his third floor office and laboratory.
Dr. Schatz in the laboratory at Rutgers University
Schatz felt an "overwhelming compulsion" to find a cure for both
tuberculosis and gram negative bacterial infections. "I generally began my work
between five and six in the morning and continued until midnight, or
even later. I was isolating and testing everything I could find." Even
though Schatz worked under very primitive laboratory conditions which
would not be acceptable today, he was extremely careful, and took great
pride in the fact that no one in the building contracted tuberculosis.
"On October 19, 1943, at about 2 PM, I realized I had a new antibiotic."
Schatz said. In just three and a half months of research, he found an
antibiotic that was effective against tuberculosis and infections caused
by gram negative bacteria. He named the antibiotic streptomycin, and
sealed a test tube with the organism that produced it to take home to
his family. This test tube is now on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian
He then worked day and night to produce enough streptomycin for the
first toxicity tests in guinea pigs that were performed at the Mayo Clinic. He did set aside
a little bit of time to go walking with Vivian Rosenfeld, a student at
the adjacent New Jersey College for Women. They married in March of
1945. Schatz received his Ph. D. in 1945, two and a half years after
beginning his graduate work.
Dr Schatz did research in many areas for more than half a century. He
was invited to lecture in the U.S., Canada, England, Switzerland,
Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary,
Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Schatz initiated research which led to the discovery of Nystatin, an
antibiotic which controls fungus and yeast infections, when he was working at
the New York State Department of Health in Albany in 1946. He and Dr. Nick
Cheronis studied the role of chelation in the formation and fertility of
soils when he taught biology at Brooklyn College from 1949 to 1952. The
field research for this work was carried out on the farm owned by former
Secretary of Agriculture and vice-president Henry Wallace.
Dr. Schatz then worked at the National Agricultural College in
Doylestown, Pennsylvania (now Delaware Valley College), where he developed the
proteolysis-chelation theory of dental carries with Drs. Charles
Bodecker and Joseph J. Martin. At the same time, he began writing and
lecturing about the toxic effects of fluoride in drinking water.
He was head of bacteriology at the Philadelphia General Hospital from
1960 to 1962. Then he accepted an appointment at the University of Chile
from 1962 to 1965 where he was associated with the Faculties of Medicine,
Chemistry and Pharmacy, Agronomy, Odontology, and Philosophy and
Education. He also helped organize research projects and worked with
people in the Chilean Ministry of Health, Agronomy and Education, and
with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
He was a professor of Science Education at Washington University in
Clayton, Missouri, from 1965 to 1969. He and his family returned to Philadelphia
in 1969 where he was a professor of science education at Temple
University until he retired in 1981.
During his tenure at Temple, he wrote many articles called "Do It
Yourself Science" which were published in the Philadelphia
La Actualidad. He was a consultant in Science Education for the
Pennsylvania Department of Science Education and the School District of
Dr. Schatz was awarded the Rutgers University Medal in 1994 for his role in the
discovery of streptomycin. The Society for Industrial Microbiology also
acknowledged him for that contribution in 1994 as did the American
Thoracic Society. He received honorary degrees and was named an honorary
member of scientific, medical and dental societies in Europe, Latin
America and the United States. In November, 1965, the University of
Chile awarded him an Honorary Degree (Miembro Academico) for his
contributions to that country. He has honorary degrees from four other
Latin American countries. He published three books and more than 700
Everywhere, he was admired for his warmth, kindness and wonderful sense
of humor. He was always available to help his students in any way he
could. His deep concern for humanity was evident throughout his life.
This biography was written and/or edited by Vivian Schatz (widow), Linda
Schatz (daughter), Carl Sigmond (grandson), and Mary Brewster.