Penicillin-Then & Now

Known as the ‘miracle drug’ by millions, penicillin is an antibiotic that has saved many lives.

It is so effective that, as Britannica and Wikipedia state, in 1999, Time Magazine named Scottish biologist and pharmacist Alexander Fleming one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century for his discovery of penicillin. It is also said that penicillin was one of the most important discoveries of the millineum. It is estimated that penicillin has saved over 200 million lives. Compared to other drugs that originated from an accident, this is amazing. The discovery of penicillin was one of the most important advances in the history of medical science, and it all began with mistake. According to de la Bedoyere, in September of 1928, Alexander Fleming was researching bacteria – the cause of multiple diseases.

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After a vacation that lasted no more than a few days, he was cleaning up some of his lab dishes that held the bacteria he had been studying. Throughout some thorough examinations of these plates, he realized a peculiar mold that was stopping bacteria from forming cell walls so they couldn’t divide and multiply. This mold – known scientifically as Pencillium notatum – contained a substance that killed bacteria. As noted by Wikipedia, Fleming called this fungus ‘penicillin’. When penicillin was first discovered, it was not supported by the public.

It took many years until penicillin was proven effective and safe. After many different scientists studied the ‘miracle drug’ and accepted its usefulness, it began mass producing around 1944. While the scientists were approving the drug, most of the penicillin went to to the Armed Forces in Europe and Asia. During World War 2, penicillin saved an estimation of 12-15% of people in the military’s lives. (de la Bedoyere and Wikipedia) “Once a clue has been obtained, teamwork may be absolutely necessary to bring the discovery to full advantage.” -Alexander Fleming in The Discovery of Penicillin.

This is true as you observe the fascinating evolution of penicillin. Throughout the years of its mass production, multiple scientists studied and analyzed penicillin. As Sir Henry quoted in 1998 – “Without Fleming, no Chain; without Chain, no Florey; without Florey, no Heatley; without Heatley, no penicillin.” These are some of the names of the most famous and well-known biologists working toward the development of this antibiotic. Said by Woodall, “Over the years, penicillin has become medically improved by doctors, scientists, and other medical professionals.

” The impacts of penicillin have been tremendous over the past fifty years. Although penicillin could not kill all bacteria, it opened the door to a new field of pharmaceutical research. As a result of the narrow range of treatable diseases of penicillin, scientists had to discover new drugs that could treat a wider range of infections, such as ampicillin, flucloxacillin, dicloxacillin, and methicillin. (Wikipedia) Because it is possible to to change the characteristics of the antibiotic, these different variations of penicillin were created for different therapeutic purposes. (Britannica) Alexander Fleming received a Nobel prize for medicine in 1945. The discovery of penicillin was one of the most widely known and frequently dicussed scientific events of the twentieth century, says Slinn.

Penicillin has changed history, and is known as one of the best medical discoveries of all time. Due to the medical and technological advances of the 20th century, penicillin is no longer a ‘wonder drug’, but it is, and most likely will, continue to be useful.