The Discovery of Penicillin

by Rick Roberts
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When Sir Alexander Fleming returned from being on vacation, he probably didn’t expect to discover a new form of lifesaving medication. This is what happened on September 28, 1928. This is the day Fleming is credited with discovering Penicillin.

St. Mary’s Hospital

After spending time on vacation in Scotland, Fleming returned to London and St. Mary’s hospital. This is when he noticed mold had contaminated Petri dishes. These dishes were used as part of an experiment involving common infectious bacteria. He looked at the contaminated Petri dishes carefully. Fleming was shocked when he realized the Penicillin notatum mold was keeping bacteria from growing. He began conducting experiments. After a few weeks of performing experiments, Fleming determined the mold juice of Penicillin could fight infectious diseases when it is carefully manipulated.


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After his discovery, Fleming was successful in growing a pure culture. It was known as Penicillin mold. It is now referred to as Penicillium chrysogenum. Fleming started calling it penicillin based on the type of bacteria culture being used. Initially, he believed the penicillin would make an excellent type of disinfectant. This is because it had high minimal toxicity and potency when compared to other common antiseptics of the day.

No Initial Attention

Fleming was known for being an extremely poor communicator as well as an orator. This caused his discovery to not get much initial attention. Fleming wasn’t able to convince any chemist to assist him with stabilizing and extracting the antibacterial compound. This did not deter him, and he continued to focus on the possible uses of penicillin. He did present a paper to the Medical Research club of London about the potential of penicillin. Many people believed Fleming’s inability to get members of the scientific community interested in his work may have delayed the development of penicillin for years.

Fellow Scientists

There was a serious lack of excitement among Fleming’s fellow scientists concerning his discovery. He still continued to conduct many different experiments involving the antibiotic substance. One of the significant experiments showed the substance was non-toxic to humans. Fleming determined this by experimenting with animals and then human volunteers. Other experiments he conducted involved penicillin’s response to pH and heat. This made it possible for Fleming to increase the stability of the substance.

Human Test Case

The first human test case involving penicillin happened in September 1940. A man cut his face working in a rose garden and got an infection. It spread to his eyes and scalp. He was initially treated using sulfa drugs. The infection only got worse. This resulted in the patient experiencing smoldering abscesses in the shoulder, eyes, and lungs. The treating physicians asked if they could try purified penicillin. Within a short period of time, the patient’s condition was significantly improved. Several other patients were then successfully treated with penicillin.

The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming provided a huge turning point in the world of medicine. It has become one of the most widely used antibiotics. Physicians can depend on it in many situations to completely cure patients. Penicillin has become an effective tool that can be used to successfully battle a wide variety of infectious diseases.

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