As one of the first antibiotics, Penicillin is credited with the start of a pinnacle turning point in the history of bacterial infection and medicine.
How it was discovered:
So like any great story it starts with a conflicted scientist with an accent, on an "olden-day" backdrop. In this case Dr Alexander Fleming, Scottish biologist in the 1920's.
In September of 1928 he returned from vacation to find that mold was growing in one of his Petri dishes containing Staphylococcus bacteria (Ever heard of a Staph-infection?)
He notices that the mold was preventing the bacteria closest to it from growing!
With further investigation and observation he learned that the mold was producing a chemical in self-defense that was killing the Staphylococcus bacteria!
So of course he shared his discover with the world and they all cheered and lifted him up their shoulders immediately...
Peers and the medical community showed very little interest in his work.
So then he was like, "I'm gonna hire some chemist to help me purify this stuff so I can prove it can be used for medical therapies"- Except he said it a lot more Scottish than that.
And then one of the chemist he hired was like "Yeah, dude, this is not gonna work... like ever".
Well actually he was on record saying "the production of penicillin for therapeutic purposes...almost impossible.”
And this chemist was not just any chemist it was Professor Harold Raistrick, a Biochemist and expert in fungal substances so I guess thats why Dr Fleming was like,
"Ok, fine" and gave up.
But the story did not end there.
So then like 10 years later there were these two other chaps. And they wanted to be all science-y and change the world and stuff.
Howard Florey and Ernst Chain (those were their names), were studying microorganisms and the things they produced ... kinda like how Penicillium produced a chemical to protect itself. (Do you see where this is going?)
So then they happened upon Dr Flemings research and they're like
"Oh la la!" (probably not those exact words) Then, "Let's make a research team and call it The Penicillin Project"(probably very close to those exact words).
And then they did. IDK how long it took them to come up with the name tho because they for sure had beef about everything else in the lab.
They got along about as well as you would expect a bunch of egotistical academics in a lab would.
They finally figured out a process to purify the mold broth. For the record they called it mold broth I'm not making that part up.
It took them like 3 years to produce enough penicillin for their first experiment if I remember correctly (this is a summary so give me a break on the details). So that would make this now 1940 (12 years after original findings)
It was basically something like this for the math part:
Lots of Gallons of Mold Broth= 1 little tiny teaspoon of penicillin.
Anyway the experiment went like this:
Step 1: Injected 8 mice with the deadly Staph Bacteria
Step 2: Gave 4 the Penicillin
Step 3: Probably all cheered when the ones who got Penicillin all lived (and the others died)
Step 4: "Lets Take a Picture of all of us but only smile if you're in the back row and in the front we won't".
Ok, spoiler if you live in the 21st century you already know, it worked.
Here is where it gets crazy!
So they they were like trying to produce it like crazy and filling bathtub with mold broth and like couldn't keep up production. Essentially what was a lab was now a factory for making and selling the stuff. CHA-CHING!
Shout out to Ruth Callow, Claire Inayat, Betty Cooke, Peggy Gardner, Megan Lancaster and Patricia McKegney known as the Penicillin Girls. Who would run the Mold Broth set up and collect like a tiny bit of penicillin from it each week (we are talking like milligrams from this whole huge set up)
The first human trial was this policeman. Sad to say they ran out, his infection came back and he died 5 days later (we will come back to this so remember the policeman).
So they were like "ok we need more of this..." and one guy was like "I bet they pee a bunch of it out" Somehow they found out it was 80%.
I don't even wanna know.
So, yes, they collect the pee of those in the the clinical trials and reused it.
Shout out to Dr. Ethel Florey who was on P-Patrol. Again their term not mine.
Here is a picture of a probably-from-pee-sample of early penicillin from the UK Science Museum.
With a booming pee-recycle process in full swing- (Is anyone else even more wary of clinical trials now) they took their project to the place all great things go to grow-THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
So of course now all the effort was going in to making as much as possible as fast as possible .
At first large scale pharmaceutical companies were really reluctant to join in with production but thanks to the handy-dandy WWII demand sky rocketed and all of a sudden at the same time they weren't reluctant anymore and Pharmaceutical Companies were really able to save the day! Saving lives and using it for everything... uh oh...(we will come back to this too)
TRIGGER WARNING IF ANYTHING RELATED TO PFIZER MAKES YOU GAG!
Fleming shared the 1945 Nobel Prize with the other 2 guys that I don't want to scroll up and remember their names.
What are the benefits of this amazing penicillin?
What? You thought it was able to heal bacterial infections that were killing people just years before when it was invented and now I'm telling you it can't do anything?!?!?!
Yup, bacteria has evolved and continues to evolve even today. Bacteria is now resistant to the original Penicillin invented as well as many other strains of antibiotics.
Risks of overuse:
Well, there is a bit of a Catch-22 here. Remember Mr. Police Guy earlier? The first human trial who died and they were like "oops, didn't make enough let's go ahead and do a clinical trial anyway and then we will sort it out from there with definitely reusing peoples pee".
Mr. Police Guy didn't get enough Penicillin and died because the bacteria out grew it. (To bad he didn't know about the pee trick).
Well every time an antibiotic is used on bacteria it learns and adapts. That's why they tell you to not forget to take it one day when they prescribe it to you.
Because if you do forget the un-weakened bacteria can learn from it.
So they over prescribe to make sure they don't create a super-bug.
This is what my eye Dr did once when I had an eye infection. He said do not stop taking it for 10 days even if you think its totally healed. You can't stop or you might create a super bug and go blind.
Wow, no pressure. That story also happens to be when I was like "Wow are antibiotics really worth it?"
Yeah we are saving people from things they would have died from in the past but simultaneously we are creating smarter and stronger bacteria that is just killing us anyway...
(think Staph-Infections and MRSA totally created in hospitals with the over use of antibiotics)
WHAT CAN I DO:
So what can you do to stop this spread of anti-biotic resistant super bugs?
The very first thing is to stop doing what got us into this mess. Stop overusing antibiotics. This thing that was such a miracle and wonder has been overused and abused for so long we are creating real damage and literally can't even use it anymore!
With great power comes great responsibility.
We definitely started throwing penicillin and other antibiotics at thing without thinking of the consequences.
The best thing you can do is avoid antibiotics. If you go to the Drs office and have a cold or something and they give you a prescription for antibiotics you don't HAVE to fill it.
You don't need anti-bacterial hand soap and sanitizers. You don't need to put Neosporin on every little cut.
First remember that antibiotics are for bacterial infections and do NOTHING for viral infections anyway. I am always floored by how few people know this.
Only 3% of earaches are bacterial not viral, yet Drs give you antibiotics whenever you take your kid in.
It's a tradition to "safe-guard" your child against even the littlest chance of hearing loss. But at what cost?
Destroying their harmonious bacteria throughout their body and especially digestive tract for the slight chance that it IS bacterial and then on top of that the chance that it fits in the area between able to fight it off naturally and too resistant to do anything anyway?
Or is it maybe more about making money and creating a dependence on Pharmaceutical Products just to survive daily life?
Did my explaination of the connection between antibiotics and mold wow you?
What else do you want to know?
What was the craziest thing you learned from all this?
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