Alexander Fleming: Discovery, Contributions & Facts

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  • 0:00 How We Use Antibiotics
  • 0:45 Fleming and Penicillin
  • 2:25 Facts About the Discovery
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Williams
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.

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