H. Boyd Woodruff
H. Boyd Woodruff, one of Selman Waksman’s early graduate students in the Department of Microbiology in what is now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, passed away on January 19, 2017. He was 99.
As a graduate student, he discovered actinomycin, the first antibiotic discovered at Rutgers, which has been used in treating Wilms Disease, a childhood cancer.
Actinomycin was the first Actinomycete antibiotic effective towards Gram positive and Gram negative pathogens and also Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This was considered a “Eureka” moment in medicine with proof-of-concept that soil microbial populations produced antibiotics, that screening of soil yielded microbes that could be cultured and their antibiotics recovered, and that certain of the antibiotics showed antagonistic activity to a broad range of pathogens.
These studies were conducted in the microbiology laboratories in Martin Hall (originally called the Administration Building) on the G. H. Cook campus where Woodruff also developed streptothricin. Though both compounds turned out to be toxic in animal trials, his studies paved the way for the development of the world’s armamentarium of microbial antibiotics.
During World War II, Woodruff joined Merck and Company, working as a member of the team that developed the first commercial deep-tank production of penicillin. At Merck, he led a series of remarkable developments, including antibiotics (streptomycin, novobiocin, fosfomycin, cefoxitin, thienamycin), vitamins (B12, C, and riboflavin), and the anticancer agent, action.
He is survived by two sons, Brian (and his wife, Sandra) and Hugh (and his wife, Sandria); and three grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory are encouraged to Wilson Memorial Union Church, Rutgers University, or a charity of your choice.
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