Sir Alexander Fleming and The Story of Penicillin

All of you know what penicillin is, don’t you? It’s an antibiotic that is powerful enough to kill bacteria which are extremely harmful to the human body. How did we first discover penicillin?

Here’s the story...

During the First World War many soldiers died from infections caused by bacteria entering their wounds. The soldiers were given antiseptic but this had proved to be useless against bacteria. The reason was that healthy cells of the body were also destroyed.

A British doctor, Dr. Alexander Fleming (born August 6, 1881, Scotland), was determined to find a medicine that could kill bacteria without causing danger to the patient, and so he spent many years undergoing research. In September 1928 something important in Dr. Fleming’s life happened.

One night he left an open dish of jelly with bacteria on his laboratory bench. The following morning he discovered that a part of that jelly had changed colour. This greatly attracted his attention. When he examined that part under a microscope, he was surprise to find that mould had entered it. He further discovered that the bacteria had all been killed.

This discovery was an important breakthrough. It turned out that a certain substance that had been produced by the mould was responsible for killing the bacteria. Dr. Fleming called this substance “penicillin”. He then did more experiments to produce penicillin, but these were unsuccessful.

Fleming’s reports were read by other scientist, among whom were Dr. Florey and Dr. Chain who were members of a team Oxford scientists. After reading the reports the two doctors started doing experiments on their own and in 1940 succeeded in producing a small quantity of penicillin. They first tried this own white mice with satisfactory results. Then four sick patients were given penicillin injections of whom there were cured.

By this time the Second World War had broken out. Dr. Florey went to the US to encourage scientist there to produce large amount of penicillin. Doctors quickly learnt which diseases penicillin could be used against, the best way to cure the patients, and the few dangers in the use of the new drug.

Dr. Fleming (centre) receiving the Nobel Prize from King Gustaf V of Sweden (right) in 1945
(credit Wikipedia)

In 1945, Dr. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology. He started this prize with Dr. Florey and Dr. Chain. Tragically, Dr. Fleming himself died in March 11, 1955 of a disease that his medicine could not cure.



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