Imagine making a discovery that could change the world, but having no idea how to actually use it. Such was Alexander Fleming’s conundrum: when he stumbled across penicillin, he couldn’t fathom how to isolate the active ingredient to make practical use of its antibiotic properties. It wasn’t until Howard Florey - born on this day in 1898 – took up the work that penicillin was raised from scientific curiosity to medical miracle. Florey was busy working with Ernst Chain on lysozyme – an antibacterial enzyme found in tears (also first formally discovered by Fleming). This work led them to penicillin. They succeeded in isolating sufficient quantities of penicillin to apply it as a medicine. The staggering results of early tests spurred on rapid development and mass production of the drug, just in time to play a vital role in treating the wounded soldiers of World War II, and millions since.
Written by Anthony Lewis
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.