From Our Archives – Soil Saves Lives

Since you're the protectors of one of our most important resources, we thought you'd appreciate this January 2014 story about soil's contribution to medicine. In 1943, after 55 years of research and working in universities, Benjamin Duggar retired at the age of 71.  He turned down all the consulting offers that came his way, thinking that he'd enjoy relaxing, catching up on his reading and puttering around at home.  But that all changed when he read a short article about his retirement in a popular science journal.  "Dr. Duggar will best be remembered for his noteworthy inquiry into the physiology of mushrooms," it said.  Ben didn't want to be remembered as a mushroom man, and decided to take the offer from Lederle Laboratories to do independent research.  Five years, and more than 3500 soil samples later, he'd discovered a new, powerful antibiotic. So why hire a botanist like Duggar who was known for his ground-breaking work understanding how fungus attacked plants?  Well, it turns out that mold is a subset of fungi, and with the discovery in 1928 of the mold that produced penicillin, lots of scientists and companies of the time were busy trying to find more fungi and molds that could produce similar antibiotics.  While penicillin was powerful, they'd learned that it couldn't cure every infection, and there was the potential for a  lot of money for the company that could isolate another "miracle drug." Lederle labs was considering purchasing a license to p

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