The Cycle of Life:
An History of Experimental Ecology

Sterling Memorial
Kline Sciences
Medical Historical
Exhibit Map

Selman Waksman, Principles of Soil Microbiology, 1927; and Microbial Antagonisms and Antibiotic Substances, 1945

Selman Waksman extended Vinogradskii’s influence in many ways. He applied Vinogradskii’s methods in his own research, participated in Vinogradskii’s expanding scientific network, assisted in publishing Vinogradskii’s 1949 collected works, and wrote a laudatory biography of him. In his Principles of Soil Microbiology--the first comprehensive textbook and general guide to soil microbiology--Waksman made clear his commitment to Vinogradskii’s approach and “cycle of life” perspective. Waksman organized his book by Vinogradskii’s fundamental principle that soil microbiology must be based, not on the study of isolated microorganisms, but rather on their activities and role in their natural environment. Guided by Vinogradskii’s ecological vision, Waksman synthesized in his nearly nine hundred-page tome 2500 Russian, German, French, and English publications on the soil sciences. The clear, central message was Vinogradskii’s: soil microbiologists, first and foremost, needed to investigate microbial activity ecologically; that is, as a biological process influenced by the soil’s (or water’s) physical and chemical properties. The “cycle of life” perspective guided the research that led him and his student René Dubos to discover the antibiotic properties of soil microbes.
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Lloyd Ackert
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