Dark time …
In the past, before penicillin was introduced to the medical society, there was no effective treatment for infections caused by bacteria such as pneumonia, or rheumatic fever.
Hospitals were full of people with blood poisoning contracted from even a little cut or a scratch but, doctors did not know any special treatments for specific infections. Although people had known for a long time, that these diseases were caused by microbial species and antibiotics are the chemicals that are capable of competing with those species. This knowledge of antibiotics run along with the ancient Egyptian era but they could do so little but wait and hope!
The Golden Era – Discovery of Penicillin
Although people knew about antibiotics from ancient times, it was not until 1928 that penicillin, the first true antibiotic was discovered by Alexander Fleming, who was a professor in Bacteriology.
Alexander Fleming was doing some experiments with colonies of Staphylococcus bacteria, which cause boils, sore throats, and abscesses. It was when he was returning from a holiday in 1928, that Fleming noticed something unusual on one of his petri dishes. It was dotted with colonies of bacteria except in one area where a blob of mold was growing as if the mold had secreted something that inhibited the bacterial growth. Fleming discovered this mold was capable of killing harmful bacteria such as Streptococcus, Meningococcus, and the Diphtheria bacillus. Later, the mold strain was identified as Penicillium notatum. After a lot of work and dedication, Fleming and his assistants could isolate and extract penicillin from the mold, and up to today, we use penicillin as a major antibiotic in the world.
The discovery of penicillin was undoubtedly one of the most important scientific discoveries in recent history. It has changed the course of modern medicine significantly because due to the discovery of penicillin, infections that were untreatable and lethal are now easily treated with penicillin. With the help of penicillin, the chances of survival increased significantly. During World War II, the death rate of the soldiers due to bacterial pneumonia decreased from 18% to 1% by treating them with penicillin. In that crisis, penicillin was crucial to saving the life of 1/7 UK wounded soldiers. Also, penicillin led to the creation of over a hundred other antibiotics. They all together improved the quality of life of people. Those people would be definitely suffering from life-threatening diseases without penicillin.
Therefore, everybody in their lifetime has more than likely benefitted significantly from the discovery of penicillin. Ever for today, penicillin is the foundation for all the discoveries of other antibiotics we are taking for our illnesses.
Also, the fact that penicillin was discovered accidentally highlights how scientific breakthroughs can occur at any point and scientists should never give up!
We cannot even imagine how our lives would be now if penicillin was not discovered and how dangerous a small infection can be. This shows how important the discovery of penicillin was and it will continue to be in the future.
By Rtr. Sumudu Thennakoon