Trivia Minute September 28, 2015

184: Penicillin is Discovered

by Marcus Michelson
Synthetic Production of Penicillin Professor Alexander Fleming, holder of the Chair of Bacteriology at London University, who first discovered the mould Penicillin Notatum. Here in his laboratory at St Mary's, Paddington, London.
Alexander Fleming is shown in his laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin.

Here are a few facts about Fleming and his discovery.

Fleming was born in 1881 in Scotland. After moving to London to attend the Royal Polytechnic Institution, Fleming enrolled at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in Paddington. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I, before returning to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was professor of bacteriology.

After a monthlong holiday with his family, he noticed one of his petri dishes had a fungus growing in it. The fungus appeared to have killed the staphylococcus bacteria that he had introduced to the petri dish. He grew some of the mold and discovered that it produced a substance that killed several bacteria.  He named the substance penicillin on March 7, 1929.

In 1930, Cecil George Paine used penicillin to cure a baby with neonatal conjunctivitis, followed by curing four others of other types of eye infection.

A myth arose around Fleming, saying that his education was paid for by the father of Winston Churchill for saving a young Winston’s life. Fleming described the story as “a wonderous fable.”

In June 1942, enough penicillin was made in the United States to treat 10 patients. The War Production Board ramped up the process and was able to produce 2.3 million doses by the spring of 1944.

Fleming won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 along with fellow antibiotic pioneers Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey.

Alexander Fleming died of a heart attack on March 11, 1955. He was 73 years old.

Our question, the monarch of what country presents the Nobel Prize?

Today is Czech Statehood Day, World Rabies Day and Freedom from Hunger Day. In the United States it’s unofficially National Good Neighbor Day and National Strawberry Cream Pie Day. It’s the birthday of philosopher Confucius, television host Ed Sullivan, actress Brigitte Bardot and broadcasting pioneer William S. Paley.

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