Monday, May 10, 2010

Discovery of Penicillin

Alexander Fleming returned to his research laboratory at St. Mary's Hospital in London after World War I. His battlefront experience had shown him how serious a killer bacteria could be, much worse even than enemy artillery. He wanted to find a chemical that could stop bacterial infection.

He discovered lysozyme, an enzyme occurring in many body fluids, such as tears. It had a natural antibacterial effect, but not against the strongest infectious agents. He kept looking. Fleming had so much going on in his lab that it was often in a jumble. This disorder proved very fortunate. In 1928, he was straightening up a pile of Petri dishes where he had been growing bacteria, but which had been piled in the sink. He opened each one and examined it before tossing it into the cleaning solution. One made him stop and say, "That's funny."

Some mold was growing on one of the dishes... not too unusual, but all around the mold, the staph bacteria had been killed... very unusual. He took a sample of the mold. He found that it was from the penicillium family, later specified as Penicillium notatum. Fleming presented his findings in 1929, but they raised little interest. He published a report on penicillin and its potential uses in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology.

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