Penicillin Serendipity

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  • Topic: Penicillin, Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, Baron Florey
  • Pages : 7 (2548 words )
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  • Published : May 14, 2007
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There were many fascinating serendipitous scientific discoveries in the 20th century. One of them was the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming. The discovery and development of penicillin totally changed the direction of approaches to treating infectious diseases and saved millions of lives ever since (1). It was the first antibiotic to successfully treat bacterial infections. Therefore, Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain, and Sir Howard Florey together were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 for the discovery and isolation of penicillin, an antibiotic medicine with great therapeutic potential (2). However, when talking about the discoverers of penicillin, the first person that comes to mind for most is Sir Alexander Fleming. Sir Alexander Fleming still remains a prominent individual in the records of medical history due to his remarkable contributions to science and medicine (1). The discovery, testing, and refinement of penicillin are a complex tale of accident, oversight, conflict, the pressure of war, and individual personalities (3). Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain, and Howard Florey had extremely similar personality and background. These three prominent individuals were all well educated, which made them competitive in their fields; they had a passion for what they were doing. They were knowledgeable in their field, too. Sir Howard Florey was considered by many to be the most intelligent among the three. After graduating from college, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford (4). Most critics agree that among these three scientists, Fleming was the most typical. He was very observant and paid close attention to intuition. He was also curious, as shown when he realized the abnormal phenomenon of the mold. Upon discovering penicillin, Fleming became dedicated and focused. He was confident about his unexpected discovery. Sir Alexander Fleming was born in Ayrshire, Scotland on August 6th, 1881. He went to St. Mary's Medical School, London University. After a few years of study, Fleming qualified with distinction in 1906 and continued research at St. Mary's Hospital as a bacteriologist (5). In his career, Fleming received numerous honorable titles including Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at the University of London. He was also elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943 and knighted in 1944 (5). Like most famous scientists, Fleming was a passionate typical modern scientist. He became interested in the natural bacterial action early in his medical life (5). Besides that, Fleming worked with humanitarian interests. He was motivated to find an effective antibiotic because he was depressed by the condition of World War II where more soldiers were dying of infection from wounds in hospitals rather than from bullets on the battlefields (3). So, based on his previous research experiment and personal interest, Fleming began researching on bacteria. His chance of discovering penicillin was considered by most to be Eureka intuition. His observation of the mold that grew in his Petri dish triggered an analogy between his previous experience with lysozyme (an enzyme that kills bacteria in human tears) and a lack of an effective antibiotic to treat millions of bacterial infectious patients. As a physician, Fleming combined a clinical practice with a bacteriologic study of cultural variants of species of pathogenic staphylococci (a kind of bacteria) (6). As it was said earlier, discovering penicillin was a chance discovery. Nobody knew when it was going to happen. This amazing unforeseen discovery took place in the year of 1928. In late July 1928, Fleming left his lab work to take a vacation, so he safely placed his bacterial culture plates on a corner of his lab bench [7.]. When he returned almost a month later, about late August or early September, Fleming observed a very interesting phenomenon: several cultures were contaminated with a mold...
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