The Cycle of Life:
An History of Experimental Ecology

Sterling Memorial
Kline Sciences
Medical Historical
Exhibit Map

Rene Dubos, The White Plague, 1952; and The Unseen World, 1962

One of Waksman's first students, Rene Dubos arrived at Rutgers' University already familiar with Winogradsky's ecological views. Dubos recalled that working towards Ph.D. in soil microbiology under Waksman, was done "in the spirit of Winogradsky." In 1927, when Dubos shifted his interests from soil microbiology to medical bacteriology, he brought WInogradsky's ecological perspective with him. At Oswald Avery's laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute, Dubos applied the lessons of soil microbiology to discover how to destroy the protective envelope of pneumococcal pneumonia. As he explained to Avery:

"if there were no enzyme that could decompose that capsular polysaccharide, it would accumulate in nature; there would be mountains of it now. There must be, somewhere in nature, some microbe that would decompose it."

Within two years he had found that microbe and had set the foundation for developing antibiotics.

Dubos' influence extended increasingly beyond medical bacteriology and soil science. Beginning in the the 1950s, he focused his attention on human ecology and by the 1970s had become "an elder statesman of the environmental movement." He was a master at translating his complex ideas into popular slogans, for example, coining "Think globally, Act locally." Through extensive lecturing and writing activities, he transformed Winogradsky's vision of the cycle of life into a broad environmentalist and ecological perspective.

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Lloyd Ackert
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