I'm writing this from home, on a course of antibiotics. It started me thinking, penicillin has to be the single greatest medical discovery of all time.


As is typical, its discovery was somewhat of a fluke. In 1828, Alexander Fleming, Scottish physician, microbiologist, and pharmacologist, left his London lab for a two-week vacation. When he returned, he found some petri dishes smeared with Staphylococcus bacteria that he had left uncleaned. He noticed an unusual fungus growing on one of the dishes, which had killed the staph. 


Fleming then grew the mould in a pure culture and found that it produced a substance that killed a number of disease-causing bacteria. He identified the mould as being from the Penicillium genus.

After many failed attempts, Fleming abandoned hope for creating a viable use for penicillin. Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, took up researching and mass-producing it, with funds from the U.S. and British governments. There were many more people involved in the Oxford team, and at one point the entire Dunn School was involved in its production. After the team had developed a method of purifying penicillin to an effective first stable form in 1940, several clinical trials ensued, and their amazing success developed methods for mass production and mass distribution in 1945.

My swollen face is slowly receding, in part thanks to Fleming’s apparent slovenliness. Thank goodness for this breakthrough. Imagine how many lives (and limbs) have been saved from infection over close to 100 years. Millions!