Fleming’s Fantastic Formulations

8–8–16, Lefko

My FFOTD is inspired by the ignorance of anti-vaxxers. It’s also a relatively short one. Famous scottish biologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident while working in the lab. Fleming was working with the influenza virus so he often streak hundreds of plates with the virus to have a large concentrated stock of it. Often these plates would get infected with a separate bacteria and would subsequently be thrown out. Fleming noticed, however, that sometimes a green mold would be growing near the bacteria and preventing further growth.

Eventually he isolated the active compound and named it penicillin, based on its genus, penicillium. This on its own is super cool, because Fleming is a baller. What is even wilder, however, is that he predicted the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in his nobel prize acceptance speech: “The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration. Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X’s death? Why Mr. X whose negligent use of penicillin changed the nature of the microbe.“ Moral: if you’re going to use antibiotics, use them for the full duration of their prescription. It’s a goddamn tragedy people didn’t follow his advice.