Who Found Penicillin?

Have you ever experienced strep throat? How about a severe ear infection? Nowadays, individuals recover from these illnesses. Frequently, they do so with the use of antibiotics.

Not too long ago, infections were not as easy to cure. Even the tiniest cut could lead to trouble. What changed? People discovered a new method to combat bacteria. What are we discussing? Penicillin, of course!

On September 3, 1928, Alexander Fleming was diligently working. His task was to examine bacteria in a laboratory. While working, Fleming noticed mold on one of his Petri dishes. And, when he examined it closely, he observed something interesting.

The bacteria he was studying were also growing all over the dish. However, they were not growing on the areas that had mold. Was the mold repelling the bacteria? After conducting further tests, Fleming discovered that it was indeed doing just that. And he learned that the mold was a type called Penicillium.

Fleming believed that he could transform the mold into medicine to combat infections. This medicine became the world’s first antibiotic. Fleming initially named it “mold juice.” Later, he changed the name to “penicillin.” Soon after, a team at Oxford University joined in to assist. Scientists Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, and Norman Heatley collaborated with Fleming. Together, they further developed penicillin.

The first patient treated with the new drug had a severe infection. His name was Albert Alexander. After several treatments with penicillin, he felt much better. However, they ran out of the medicine. The infection returned, and Alexander passed away.

Nevertheless, the doctors had learned that penicillin could fight bacteria. They just needed to produce more of it. Later, Florey and Chain traveled to the United States. There, they discovered methods to accelerate the growth of the mold. Starting in 1942, penicillin was used to treat soldiers in World War II.

During that time, diseases were just as deadly for soldiers at war as enemy forces. Bacterial pneumonia alone accounted for 18 percent of American casualties in the first world war. Thanks to penicillin, that percentage dropped to less than one percent in World War II.

The four scientists saved lives and forever changed the field of medicine. Nowadays, antibiotics are utilized to treat numerous illnesses. However, doctors are concerned about bacteria developing resistance to these drugs. That is one reason why you should only take antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor.

Have you ever taken an antibiotic? If so, you are already aware of their effectiveness. Medical discoveries like penicillin give people hope for more breakthroughs in the future. Will someone discover a cure for cancer? A way to halt Alzheimer’s Disease? These discoveries may be closer than you think.

Give It a Try

Find a friend or family member to assist you with one or more of these activities:

Bacteria and viruses, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, can cause illnesses. Take a look at these microscopic images of bacteria and viruses. Have any of them made you sick in the past? Which ones are you interested in learning more about? Discuss with a friend or family member.

Have you ever taken antibiotics or any other type of medicine? Write a story about your experience. What illness did you have? Did you visit a doctor? How long did it take for you to recover?

Explore more about antibiotics. What are the most important things to know about antibiotics? Create a poster or pamphlet that includes all the essential information. Feel free to add pictures or graphs to make it more enjoyable to read.

Sources of Wonder:

– Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Fleming (accessed 03 Oct. 2019)

– PBS: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic (accessed 03 Oct. 2019)

– ACS: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/flemingpenicillin.html (accessed 03 Oct. 2019)

– NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520913/ (accessed 03 Oct. 2019)


1. Who discovered penicillin?

Penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, in 1928. Fleming accidentally discovered the antibacterial properties of penicillin while working at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He noticed that a mold called Penicillium notatum was inhibiting the growth of bacteria in a petri dish, leading to the development of the first antibiotic.

2. How did Sir Alexander Fleming discover penicillin?

Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by chance. He had left a petri dish containing Staphylococcus bacteria uncovered while he was on vacation. When he returned, he noticed that a mold called Penicillium notatum had contaminated the dish and was inhibiting the growth of bacteria. This accidental discovery led to the development of penicillin as the first antibiotic.

3. What impact did the discovery of penicillin have on medicine?

The discovery of penicillin revolutionized medicine. It marked the beginning of the antibiotic era and transformed the treatment of bacterial infections. Penicillin and subsequent antibiotics have saved countless lives by effectively treating diseases such as pneumonia, syphilis, and gangrene. It also paved the way for the development of other antibiotics, leading to significant advancements in the field of medicine.

4. How was penicillin initially used in medicine?

Initially, penicillin was used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections. It was particularly effective against diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and scarlet fever. However, in the early days, the production of penicillin was limited, and it was primarily used for severe cases or military personnel during World War II. As production techniques improved, penicillin became more widely available and used for various infections in both civilian and military settings.

5. Are there any limitations or drawbacks to penicillin?

While penicillin is highly effective against many bacterial infections, there are limitations and drawbacks. Some bacteria have developed resistance to penicillin, making it less effective in certain cases. Additionally, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to penicillin, ranging from mild skin rashes to severe anaphylactic reactions. It is important to use penicillin judiciously to prevent the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

6. How has penicillin influenced modern medicine?

Penicillin’s discovery has had a profound impact on modern medicine. It paved the way for the development of numerous other antibiotics, expanding the range of treatable bacterial infections. The discovery of penicillin also highlighted the importance of scientific research and serendipitous discoveries in advancing medical knowledge. It remains one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of medicine and continues to save lives worldwide.

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