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Alexander Fleming: Penicillin, Accomplishments & Awards

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson discusses the major accomplishments and awards of a man to whom many owe their lives, Alexander Fleming. You'll learn why his accomplishments are so important and why he won so many awards.

Alexander Fleming

Although many people collaborated on the discovery and confirmation of penicillin, the world's first antibiotic, most credit Alexander Fleming with the primary discovery. Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist who accomplished much in his career. In this lesson, we'll take a loot at his role in discovering penicillin, his other accomplishments, as well as the awards he won in his lifetime.

Alexander Fleming
Alexander Fleming

Penicillin

After studying medicine at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, Fleming eventually decided to become a bacteriologist. In 1928, he became a professor of bacteriology at the University of London. It was here he would make his most notable discovery.

In the late summer of that same year, Fleming took a month-long vacation with his family. When he returned to his lab, expecting little to have changed in his absence, he noticed something very odd. Before he left, Fleming left out a culture of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus. He saw that this culture was contaminated with some sort of mold. While he wasn't sure what kind of mold it was, but he definitely saw its effect on the bacteria. The bacteria colonies that were nearest to the mold (fungus) were obliterated.

Naturally curious, Fleming tried to figure out what, exactly, had destroyed the bacteria. He named the bacteria-destroying compound produced by this mold, ''mold juice'' at first, but later re-named it penicillin after the mold itself, Penicillium chrysogenum, (formerly called Penicillium notatum.)

Fleming believed that penicillin probably had some great clinical benefit to people. However, for it to be clinically beneficial, the penicillin would have to be isolated and stabilized. This was no small feat, and not something that Fleming or his team could accomplish. The task fell to a team from the University of Oxford, where Howard Florey and Ernst Chain purified and stabilized this antibiotic for the first time.

Other Accomplishments

While Fleming is best known for discovering penicillin, he did accomplish quite a bit outside of this discovery. Many years earlier, during World War I, Fleming was part of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Back then, infected wounds were treated with strong antiseptics. Fleming correctly noted that the antiseptics only made things worse for the soldiers, as they actually inhibited the body's natural ability to heal the wound and fight off the infection. Ironically, this meant soldiers would often die from the treatment rather than from the infection. Fleming devised a system for safely letting the wounds heal, largely on their own. Unfortunately, even though his advice was appropriate for the circumstances, it was largely ignored.

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