Alexander Fleming is a notable name in biomedical research. He is credited with the discovery of penicillin, which led to the development of antibiotics for medicinal use. This article discusses Fleming and his contribution to the scientific community.
How We Use Antibiotics
Undoubtedly, throughout life, we as humans will deal with infections of different types. Pathogenic organisms are constantly fighting to work their way into our bodies. Occasionally, they succeed and when they do, they can cause the symptoms usually associated with microbial invasions. For many of these infections, antibiotics serve as the best course of treatment.
Antibiotics are a class of drugs that are designed to attack microbial agents in order to cure infections and diseases. There are many different classes of antibiotics and each has its own mechanism of killing the target microbes. However, the evolution of these compounds began with one man, Alexander Fleming, and his accidental discovery, penicillin.
Alexander Fleming and the Discovery of Penicillin
Alexander Fleming was a Scottish scientist and microbiologist. At an early age, he began to develop his love for science as a member of the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London. In 1903, Alexander Fleming enrolled in St. Mary's Medical School, where he received training in biomedical research and microbiology. He eventually became a lecturer at St. Mary's and contributed to research that focused on vaccine development and infection treatments.
Fleming developed a reputation for being a strong researcher but was often considered to be untidy and messy in terms of his laboratory upkeep. This was a strong criticism since tidiness is important for the prevention of contamination in microbial research. However, it was this characteristic that led to his most famous accidental discovery.
During a holiday vacation in 1928, Fleming stacked several agar plates containing the bacterium staphylococcus. When he returned, he noticed that those plates were contaminated with mold. However, he also noticed that the mold created a zone of inhibition, which is an area where bacteria cells won't grow. This 'accident' led to the discovery of the first antibiotic, which he called penicillin. From this discovery, a new pharmaceutical industry developed and to this day, his original discovery is credited with saving millions of lives. For his efforts, Alexander Fleming (along with two fellow scientists) received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945.
Facts about the Discovery
It is interesting to note that Alexander Fleming is just as lucky as he was brilliant. The fact of the matter is that Fleming's discovery took place at the perfect time and his ingenuity made it possible for this discovery to be developed.
Prior to Fleming's work, several other scientists had proposed the antimicrobial effects of mold on bacteria. Ernest Duchesne, also a notable scientist, proposed the inhibitory effects of mold on bacteria as early as 1897. But this discovery was not taken seriously due to the lack of isolation and stabilization of the active penicillin molecule. Fleming was able to isolate the active ingredient from these molds, and this allowed him to succeed in publishing these findings in a manner that was more readily received by the scientific community.
In addition to discovering the antimicrobial properties of penicillin, Fleming also noticed that bacteria had the ability to develop resistance if not properly treated with enough of the drug. This is another important fact in antibiotic medication development since the effectiveness of these drugs may be reduced if the bacteria develop resistance.
Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin revolutionized the antibacterial medicinal industry and is responsible for the development of this class of drugs. While many new antibiotics are on the market today, many of the original drugs developed from penicillin are still being used today to treat some of the most common infections and diseases. Through his brilliance, ingenuity, and pure luck, Alexander Fleming was able to change the course of medicine for generations to come.
Lesson at a Glance
The development and use of antibiotics today can be attributed to Alexander Fleming's accidental discovery of penicillin. The inhibitory effects of mold on bacteria created a zone of inhibition, which can ultimately be used to fight infection in the body.
Today, penicillin is used to treat common infections.
Things you should be able to do upon completion of the lesson include the ability to:
- Assign meaning to the term 'antibiotics'
- Reflect upon Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin
- Remember notable facts about Fleming's discovery