What is Penicillin?
Today we use a host of antibiotics to treat diseases and to prevent the onset of infections. Do you know that these life-saving antibiotics were not available until the early 1940s? Penicillin was discovered by a stroke of luck at St. Mary’s Hospital in London by Dr. Alexander Fleming.
Dr. Alexander Fleming
In 1928, Fleming was researching Staphylococcus aureus, a disease-causing bacterium, when he left for a long vacation with his family. When he returned to his lab, he found that his lab was completely cluttered. He had forgotten to clean up before leaving! He started to sort out the dirty petri dishes that were coated with staphylococcus bacteria.
The Discovery of Penicillin
One of the petri dishes had mold on it. The mold was circular in shape and the area around the circle was free of the bacteria Staphylococcus.
Fleming concluded that the bacteria on the petri dish around the ring must have been killed by some substance that had come from the mold.
Fleming discussed the mold with mycologist C.J. La Touche who had his office right below Fleming’s.
Role of Luck
Together, they examined the mold closely and found out that the mold in the petri dish was a penicillium mold.
From where did this mold come? Most likely, from La Touche’s room downstairs! La Touche was collecting various types of molds for his research and as luck would have it, some floated up to Fleming’s lab.
Though Fleming understood the potential of penicillin mold, he was unable to isolate the active antibacterial element, penicillin.
In 1940, two scientists at Oxford University, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain were able to isolate penicillin.
In 1941, Charles Fletcher, a doctor employed at a hospital in Oxford, came to know about their work.
He had a patient who was nearly on the verge of dying because of a bacterial infection in his wounds.
Dr. Fletcher used some penicillin on the patient and the wound made a remarkable recovery.
All the three main scientists—Fleming, Florey and Chain—were awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
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