Fleming's penicillin mould, 1935.
3 4 c m
actual image size: 32cm x 26cm

Fleming's penicillin mould, 1935.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library


This sample marks penicillin's transition from an interesting phenomenon to a potential drug. In 1928 Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered that a strain of Penicillium mould exuded a substance that killed certain bacteria. Following the German firm IG Farben's announcement of the first general purpose bacteria-killing drug Prontosil, Fleming now saw his 'penicillin', as he called it, as a posible medicine and gave this sample of a producing mould to a colleague at St Mary's Hospital in London. Penicillin was eventually isolated in 1940, and from 1942 became an important drug.

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