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1920: Penicillin Discovery

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Each day as part of the Great British Innovation Vote – a quest to find the greatest British innovation of the past 100 years – we’ll be picking one innovation per decade to highlight. Today, from the 1920s, the discovery of Penicillin.

It’s hard to imagine life without penicillin. This drug, which many of us take for granted, has saved millions of lives since its discovery by Alexander Fleming less than a century ago.

Alexander Fleming in his Lab, December 1943.

Alexander Fleming and Penicillin.
Image Credit: Credit © Daily Herald Archive/National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said, “Just imagine a world without antibiotics, a world where infections that would barely keep you off work or school today, would have actually killed you. That was the world that existed just a little over 70 years ago.” listen to ‘Sir Paul Nurse’ on Audioboo

Today, penicillin continues to fight against infectious diseases. Yet who would have thought you could create such a phenomenal medicine from mould? Fleming, a bacteriologist working at St. Mary’s Medical School in London, observed that certain bacteria were killed by mould when he saw a bacteria-free circle forming around a culture dish used to grow microbes, and by 1944 the drug was being mass-produced and proved a powerful weapon in fighting diseases such as pneumonia and syphilis.

Thanks to Penicillin, we lead much longer, healthier lives which is why it deserves your vote as the Greatest British Innovation.

Written by Will Stanley

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  1. Ibrahim

    I actually had a great encounter with penicilin for quick recovery against bacteria disease and I also found it to be a great companion for life. Kudos to the great scientist.

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