Who discovered that penicillin was effective against bacterial infections?

Historical Interest in Bacteria Read more from
Chapter Bacteria, Viruses, and Protists

British microbiologist Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) was the first to discover penicillin’s use as an antibacterial agent. In 1928, Fleming was researching staphylococci at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. As part of his investigation, he had spread staphylococci on several petri dishes before going on vacation; when he returned, he noticed a green-yellow mold contaminating one of the petri dishes—but the staphylococci had failed to grow near the mold. He identified the mold as being of the species Penicillium notatum. Further investigation proved that staphylococci and other organisms are killed by P. notatum, but it was not until the 1940s that British-Australian pathologist Howard Florey (1898–1968) and German-born British biochemist Ernst Boris Chain (1906–1979) rediscovered the benefits of penicillin and isolated it for medical use. In 1945 Fleming, Florey, and Chain shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on penicillin.


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