Alexander Fleming: his life and discoveries

Do you know who invented penicillin? Well, let's better formulate the question, do you know who discovered penicillin? This question is a classic in trivia games and the answer is widely known: Sir Alexander Fleming.

This Scottish scientist and doctor dedicated his whole life to research, but as has happened so often in science, the discovery was the result of chance. We tell you in detail the trajectory of this important historical figure.

Who was Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming was a prominent Scottish scientist who developed his career in the first half of the 20th century . It is important not to confuse his figure with that of another illustrious character, Ian Fleming, with whom he shares a surname.

Ian was the creator of the spy novels starring James Bond, while Alexander excelled in the field of medical research. His great contribution was the discovery of the antibacterial properties of penicillin , although his achievements also include discovering that lysozyme is another powerful bactericidal agent.

A life dedicated to the study of bacteria

Fleming was born in Darvel, a small town in the council of Ayrshire, in the southwest of Scotland, in 1881. At the age of 13 he moved to London with his brother Thomas, who was studying medicine.

In the English capital he followed in the footsteps of his brother thanks to help in the form of a scholarship and the support of his relatives. St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, Paddington, was his study center At the age of 25 he showed an interest in bacteriology and joined the Immunologist Almroth Wright's team. From there he specialized in bacterial infections.

His great global recognition came in 1928, when he discovered penicillin , but a few years earlier, in 1922, he did the same with lysozyme . At that time Fleming was 41 years old.

Fleming was studying possible treatments to combat gas gangrene, an infection of muscle tissue that is caused by bacteria of the genera Clostridium. The scientist discovered that many of these bacteria were destroyed by the action of the enzyme lysozyme. But that finding was semi-casual, since what happened was that he accidentally sneezed on the plates, causing the body's mucous membranes to eliminate the bacteria.

Prior to all these successes, the Scotsman served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France during World War I. When he returned from the conflict he was appointed professor of bacteriology at the University of London. In terms of love and family, he married the nurse Sarah Marion McElroy in 1915 and had a son, Robert Fleming.

Shortly before his death, in 1951, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh. His last years were spent in London, where he died in 1955 at the age of 74 as a result of a heart attack. He was buried as a national hero in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Alexander Fleming and penicillin

Fleming's first discoveries date back to 1922, with lysozyme. This enzyme is present in tears, saliva, and nasal secretions. It acts as an effective barrier against bacterial infections.

Prior to these works, the Scotsman was already an outstanding professional in his field. In 1908 he received the Gold Medal from the University of London and remained a professor at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School until 1914.

Alexander Fleming's experiment with penicillin

The story of Fleming and penicillin has certain similarities with his previous success, that of lysozyme.The scientist even stated that one of his goals was not to revolutionize the medical industry by discovering a powerful antibiotic, but that sometimes one finds what one is not looking for

Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin that year out of curiosity. Staph cultures in his lab were contaminated by a fungus . The colonies of bacteria that surrounded it had been destroyed and those further away were still intact.

The Scot then decided to grow the mold in a pure culture and found that the fungus produced a substance that killed bacteria that cause major diseases. This fungus belongs to the genus Penicilllium, which gave rise to the name penicillin in 1929.

A few months after its discovery, and after carrying out tests to certify the finding, Fleming published a memoir in which the antibiosis processes were reported, a phenomenon of Biological interaction that prevents some organisms from living in the vicinity of others due to the segregation of an antibiotic substance that causes their death.

Penicillin took about 15 years to become a universal medicine, until the mid-1940s, but the discovery allowed Alexander Fleming to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945 and be named "Sir" a year earlier. The Nobel was shared with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, who had also worked in the field of bacteriology.

Alexander Fleming is a very important figure in the history of medicine and science in the 20th century. His discovery has been an important lifesaver, since penicillin is one of the most effective antibiotics that exist..


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