Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28, 1928 – Alexander Fleming Washes His Petri Dish

Having just returned from a holiday, Scottish Professor of Bacteriology Alexander Fleming came back to his lab in St. Mary's Hospital, London, where he had been studying Staphylococcus. One of his stacked petri dishes had been left open, and blue-green mold had begun to grow inside. Around the mold, the bacteria had been diminished, as if growth had not only been inhibited, but the bacteria destroyed.

“That's funny,” Fleming said, but went about his business washing the contaminant and turning back to the research at hand.

Life in the world would go on, and Fleming would become somewhat famous for his work against antisceptics in deep-tissue surgery. Surgeries and doctor's offices continued to be places of potential hazard. Lessons learned from the Second World War taught that sterilization and natural immunity were the best methods for defense, but infection was nearly a death certificate itself. Pneumonia, scarlet fever, and diptheria ran through populations periodically, minor plagues that even advanced societies had to suffer through.

In 2000, as something of a miraculous discovery, doctors at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in San Jose ,Costa Rica, published the papers of Dr. Clodomiro Picado Twight. Dr. Picado was internationally known for his research with snake venom and cures, but it seemed that he had discovered a practical antibiotic as early as 1927. He had observed the fungus Penicillium inhibiting the growth of streptococci and staphylococci (which Fleming had seen, but not noticed). He had submitted a paper to the Paris Academy of Sciences, but it had not made an impression.

As the papers were published anew, commentary was written on the use of the fungus in folk medicine since the Middle Ages. Several European researchers had noticed its effects, even Tyndall in 1875 and Lister in 1871, but neither embraced the potential. Modern advancements in biochemistry had looked into the possibilities of antibiotics, finding a few such as the sulfomides and the quinolones that each severe side effects, but this natural product seemed like a place for renewed research. As early tests began to show great promise, pharmaceutical companies raced to patent a Wonder Drug.

The drug Penicillin would be branded in 2010 after isolation, synthesis, and FDA approval. While immunity among bacteria has been detected from under-use, the chemical structure for Penicillin enables easy modification for renewed effectiveness. Mass production began quickly, opening up huge markets for antibiotics in every hospital, office, and home in the world. First and third world death rates are expected to plummet alike.

Conversely, of course, if birth rates do not decrease like death rates, it can be expected that world population may reach as much as three and a half billion by 2025. With the Earth supporting such a surge of new life, pollution and social ills are expected to grow exponentially.

In reality, Dr. Fleming took great interest in the petri dish that had caused him to utter the famous words, “That's funny!” He tested the mold for a decade before contacting chemists Ernst Chain and Howard Florey into isolating and concentrating the chemical he had dubbed “penicillin” after calling it “mould juice” for some months. The war effort of World War 2 pushed for maximized production of penicillin, enough to treat every soldier during the D-Day invasion. For their efforts, Fleming and Florey would receive knighthoods in 1944, and Fleming, Florey, and Chain would share the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

1 comment:

  1. wow.. i like to read from the title to the end of your blog post.

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