Antibiotics -History of Antibiotics


Doctor Alexander Fleming made the discovery that led to antibiotics in 1928. He was studying bacteria at his laboratory at St. Mary's Hospital, in London, England. He went away for vacation and left bacteria growing in sample dishes. Another lab was studying mold, and some blew in through the window. The mold killed the bacteria where it landed. He called the bacteria-killing substance the mold was making "penicillin".

In 1939, Howard Florey and Earnest Chain at Oxford University started developing penicillin into a drug. At the time, bacteria caused many diseases and infections that had no cure. World War II had started, and many soldiers were dying from infected wounds. By 1944, they had found a way to produce large amounts of penicillin. The first large batch was supplied to British troops and their allies. In March, 1945, the first doses were available to the public. Since then, many new antibiotics have been created, and have saved countless lives by curing a wide range of diseases and infections.

  • In 1943, there was a worldwide search to find a strain of mold that produced a high amount of penicillin. A lab worker named Mary Hunt found a golden-colored mold on a cantaloupe in a fruit market in Peoria, Illinois. "Mary's moldy melon" yielded 200 times more penicillin than Alexander Fleming's mold. Howard Florey mutated the cantaloupe mold with x rays to increase the yield even more.

  • The company Pfizer grew the first large batch of mold for penicillin in Brooklyn, New York, in March, 1944. They bubbled oxygen into a tank of thick corn syrup. This meant the mold could grow throughout the entire volume of the tank.

  • The same antibiotic can treat very different illnesses. The terrible disease cholera can be cured with tetracycline, an antibiotic that is often prescribed for acne.

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