Recorded: 11 May 2001
I was supported by the American Tuberculosis Association. So my duty was to develop the genetics of micro bacterial tuberculosis. I started on it, but I very soon decided that it was not for me. It took one month to grow a colony of micro bacterium in addition was dangerous (laughter). And it was very difficult so I started to work with micro bacterium bi-annie, (unclear, please clarify) which is another micro bacterium which made a colony in two days so I developed [the] genetics of that. But obviously I started to do work also with E. coli and then I worked with streppococculus and developed genetics of four or five type of bacteria at this time. And also, I mainly decided to study genetics of antibiotic resistance, because at that time it became [a] very important field because antibiotics started to fail because of resistance. I thought we would find the genetics of that so that was what I was working on here for these few years. And the main achievement I got which is something which is now being rediscovered over and over—to use multiple drug therapy, not to use one antibiotic. Maybe two and three and four—now they discovered that for AIDS—that you have to do a cocktail and they say the guy should get a Nobel Prize for it. (Please verify who this person is) But he’s just repeating what we have done, but it was very difficult at that time to convince doctors that they should use several because I published several papers showing that the mutation rate of two drugs is probable mutation Rac1 and others so that means extremely rare. And you shouldn’t use one drug, and second, and third because then you get progressively resistant if you use all at the same time. It’s much better so, we publish a paper. I decided to get several important people some of whom were medical so they would cosign the paper so to make the paper famous in [the] Journal of American Medical Association—that all antibiotics should be used in pair or three or four at the same time. Like for TB, [with] which I was working, every time somebody uses less than four or five at the same time. But when I started, the doctors were against it cause they would say they have trouble with toxicity of one antibiotic and we couldn’t use two because it would be much worse or three, that’s absolutely…but they said you could use less so you don’t notice, and actually they were using four or five at lower doses they have much less toxicity. So that was generally adopted to the cocktail. So this was my contribution of Cold Spring Harbor days, the antibiotic cocktail, and I had a friend in Sloan Kettering, Burginal who worked with leukemia. And at that time leukemia survival was a few months for a cat, for kids, it was 100% dead. And with one of the anti-cancer drugs it was a little longer because the resistance developed and I gave a lot of trials, I convinced to use three and four at the same time, since then leukemia is a curable disease though I consider that also a contribution of Cold Spring Harbor from my time. Cause he [Burginal?] was coming here—So people were coming from New York and other places to learn things at Cold Spring Harbor at that time. We supplied inspiration.
Waclaw Szybalski is an authority on molecular biology, genetics and microbiology. He earned his Ph.D. at the Gdansk Institute of Technology in Poland and joined the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1950s where he is now Professor Emeritus of Oncology in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Szybalski is known for the many significant contributions he has made throughout his career, beginning with his studies on mutagenesis and continuing through his contributions to genomics. He was among the first to formulate the concept of multi-drug antibiotic therapy.
Szybalski has also participated in the Human Genome Project.
Szybalski is the founder and head of many editorial boards including that of the journal Gene.
A long-time meeting and course participant at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Szybalski was a friend and contemporary of many pioneers in the field of genetics, including Alfred Hershey, Martha Chase, Max Delbrück, and Barbara McClintock.