But, finally, Elizabeth and Rachel found a useful fungicidal agent with a lower toxicity. It was produced by a soil bacterium isolated from a sample that Elizabeth had collected, while on holiday, in Warranton, Virginia. She had taken a bit of soil at the edge of a cow pasture, near a dairy barn, at the farm of a certain Walter B. Nourse. Because the microbe appeared to be a new species of streptomycetes, it received the name Streptomyces noursei, in honor of Mr. Nourse. The fungicidal agent was initially named fungicidin, but it was soon renamed nystatin, as both Elizabeth and Rachel worked for the New York State Department of Health (although in different locations). Since then, nystatin has been widely used to treat candidiasis and other fungal infections.
- Elizabeht Hazen, seeker. Arts of Innovation.
- Elizabeth Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown, Pharmaceutical Achievers. Antibiotics in Action.
- News of Science: Scientists in the News (on E. Hazen). Science (1955) 122, 914.
- Women in Microbiology, Microbes and Society: A Closer Look.
- Elizabeth Hazen Biography. World of Microbiology and Immunology.
- Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown. Inventor of the Week, Lemelson-MIT Program.
This post modestly celebrates March 8th, International Women's Day. The discovery of nystatin seems a good example of an important contribution of women scientists to microbiology, natural product chemistry, and medicine. A related story is that of Alma Whiffen, who discovered cycloheximide—also known as actidione—around the same time (1947). She isolated the compound from cultures of a soil microbe, Streptomyces griseus. Cycloheximide has antifungal activity, and was employed to treat fungal infections in plants; however, it is not useful for human treatment. The compound is better known as a general inhibitor of protein synthesis in eukaryotes, and it is widely used for research purposes. Read more here:
- Antibiotic for Plants. Time (Nov. 22, 1948).
- Alma Whiffen Barksdale Records. The New York Botanical Garden.
More related links:
- Microbiology pioneer dies (Esther Lederberg, discoverer of the lambda phage). Aetiology (Nov. 30, 2006).
- Committee on the Status of Women in Microbiology, American Society for Microbiology.
- Women in Science, the blog.
- Iraq's women scientists. BBC News, Middle East (Sept. 22, 2004). The dark side of microbiology...
Image credits: Wikipedia.