Edward J. Reardon
A slim youth of 25,
product of Passaic's public schools and now
engaged in research work in soil microbiology, is on his way toward
startling the world of medical science with a drug more onderful than
The youth is Albert Schatz, son
of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Schatz, 408 Lafayette Avenue. The new wonder drug
is called streptomycin. Experiments already have shown streptomycin will
kill many infectious germs penicillin will not touch.
Most important, it may prove to be the drug for which the
world has been waiting for centuries – the one which will stamp
out the great "White Plague", tuberculosis.
To the layman, the story of streptomycin's discovery is
difficult to grasp. It has for its background a fantastic world in which
bacteria numbering into the billions make constant war upon each other
in a dab of soil no larger than your fingertip.
But to Schatz and those associated with him in this work, the
tale of streptomycin is vividly alive, practical, understandable. They
are the generals who range the microbes one against the other, direct
the battle and chronicle the results for the future benefit of
The discovers of this new drug
entailed for them hours, days and months of tedious, painstaking and
oft-times discouraging laboratory work.
And if streptomycin bears out its early promise – and there is every reason to believe it will – a little, white-haired lady can take a bow for her part in the discovery.
She is Albert Schatz's grandmother who taught him as a little boy to love the soil and the things it produced. It was she who awakened in him a lively interest in plants and flowers and all growing things.
Schatz was born in Norwich, Conn. in 1920 but was brought to Passaic by his family when he was eight months old. He is
the eldest of three children, an only son. At the age of five he started in the kindergarten class at Public School No. 11 (Memorial School), was graduated from there in 1934.
He remembers that during the succeeding four years as a student in Passaic High School, he had no particular preference for any one subject. Two of his high school teachers made an impression on him. They were Miss Jessica E. Bates, who taught him Latin, and Miss E. L. Hance, his English and home room teacher.
Schatz was a classical course student at Passaic High. Graduated with the mid-year class in 1938, he remained to take post-graduate work in solid geometry and trigonometry.
His love for the soil sent him to Rutgers University's College of Agriculture in September, 1938. Schatz had lived on a farm every Summer during his school days. He wanted to be a farmer more than he wanted anything else. He was filled with wonderment at the miracle of the soil's ability to sustain plant life. He wanted to explore that miracle.
At the College of Agriculture he majored in soil microbiology. This was the study that interested him most in life and he tackled its mysteries avidly. The interest paid dividends scholastically. He made Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and was the only student of his class to be elected to Sigma Xi, the national professional society of science, in which membership is usually limited to faculty members and graduate students.
He was graduated in June, 1942, with the highest honors in his class and a four-year average of 1.09, a mark which won him the Natural Sciences Prize.
Directly following his graduation, Schatz was appointed a research assistant at the college, working under Dr. Selman A. Waksman at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Russian-born Dr. Waksman as a young instructor had become engrossed in the magic of the soil.
After six months of research work at the college, Schatz received a call from his Passaic Draft Board and found himself in November, 1942, a private in the Army Air Forces, stationed in Miami and in charge of medical and sanitary bacteriology research at the base hospital there.
Was in Army
He spent some six months in the Army, was offered an opportunity to go to OCS but declined since the only commissions open to limited service men were in Army administration work while he preferred laboratory work. A disability discharge after six months of Army life sent him back to his former post as research assistant at Rutgers in June, 1943 – and set the stage for the discovery of streptomycin.
The first two problems assigned to him by Dr. Waksman when he became a research assistant were to find something in the soil which would have a destructive effect on gram-negative bacteria against which penicillin was ineffective and (2) to find something which would have a destructive action on certain acid-fast bacteria such as tuberculosis.
To understand Schatz's assignment – infinitely more difficult than any ever given the mythical Hercules – one must have some understanding of what lies behind the study of soil microbiology.
The theory, on which original experiments were based, is that there is present among the billions of microbes in the soil, some species which will kill off other germs that cause disease.
It then became the research man's task to single out the "good" microbes and send them into battle against the "bad" microbes. Consider the countless number of species in a single thimbleful of soil and you will get a hazy idea of the magnitude of the job.
Schatz's work on this double problem began in June, 1943. By January, 1944, the test tube campaign had made no headway on the acid-fast bacteria problem. However, two soil microbes had been isolated which were proving antagonistic to gram-negative bacteria. Two separate strains were found; one in a heavily manured field, the other in a swab taken from the throat of a chicken.
Next isolated from these two soil mocrobes was the substance which was responsible for killing the gram-negative bacteria. The new antibiotic was called streptomycin by the workers at the experiment station. Most important about the drug was its almost negligible toxicity, which meant it could be administered without fear of after effect, even when given in large doses. In this it differed from other toxic antibiotics.
It was evident from the start that streptomycin had a greater activity over a wider range of microbes than did streptothricin, which acted on many bacteria penicillin could not touch. Streptomycin could tackle these microbes and others, too, among them the ones causing undulent fever and tularemia.
But the possibility that makes Albert Schatz's eyes brighten with enthusiasm and hope is the one that the new discovery may be effective against tuberculosis.
Already laboratory experiments show that while other known drugs have failed to do more than arrest growth of T.B. germs, streptomycin in large enough quantities actually kills them. Tests are now being conducted in several laboratories in the United States.
Schatz talked modestly of is work to this Herald-News reporter while on a visit to his parents' home last night, surrounding him were the other members of the Schatz family.
Sister a Nurse
His sister, Elaine, second eldest of the children, trim and nice-looking, became a graduate nurse on June 15. She was graduated from Passaic High School at the age of sixteen, attended New Jersey State Teachers College until she was eighteen and able to enter Jersey City Medical Center as a student nurse – the career on which she had set her heart as a child. She was graduated from the Center this month with the degree of B. S.
And there was thirteen-year-old Sheila, Albert's youngest sister. Now a student in Memorial School, she is determined to become her brother's assistant when she "grows up".
Mrs. Schatz, Albert's younglooking mother, was present, too. It was Mrs. Schatz who helped the interviewer by delicately hinting at items her son was too modest to mention.
Of course the elder Mr. Schatz is proud of his son. An interior decorator, he can discuss the intricacies of soil microbiology with the fluidity of a scientist. Interest in his son's work probably is responsible for that.