Launching the Antibiotic Era: Personal Accounts of the Discovery and Use of the First Antibiotics

Launching the Antibiotic Era: Personal Accounts of the Discovery and Use of the First Antibiotics

Launching the Antibiotic Era: Personal Accounts of the Discovery and Use of the First Antibiotics

Launching the Antibiotic Era: Personal Accounts of the Discovery and Use of the First Antibiotics

Excerpt

Science is often thought of as an automatic process. In fact it profits from a richness of styles, personalities, and approaches. Science benefits from accidents of personal history and functions within environments strongly shaped by cultural forces. Histories such as the development of antibiotics -- and of René Dubos's role in particular -- are valuable because they remind us of science's immense diversity.

My first experience with René Dubos was through The Bacterial Cell. It is a book that only Dubos could have written, because he brings into sharp focus what we now take for granted-namely, that bacteria are cells. The book is a lucid and accurate summary of the biology of bacteria known through the mid-1940s. The structures and activities of bacteria, how they relate to problems of virulence, immunity, and chemotherapy, and the phenomena of bacterial variability are all impeccably presented. I know of no other work that had in it the seeds of its own obsolescence, since it inspired so many to pick up on his inspirations and challenges. In doing so, they brought about a rapid displacement of what Dubos said and substantially furthered the march of bacteriology.

The Bacterial Cell is the work from which I can say I learned most of the microbiology I know. The print in my copy is literally read off the pages and the covers are about to fall off. The book appeared in 1945 when I was a medical student working in Francis Ryan's laboratory at Columbia University. I was just beginning to think about whether there was a bacterial genetics, and this work was the launching pad for my own investigations. Within a year, I was able to find . . .

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