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Culture plate of penicillium mould, London, England, 1963

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This is a replica of the culture plate on which penicillin was discovered. In 1928 Alexander Fleming (1881-1995), a British bacteriologist, observed that a stray growth of Penicillium mould could affect colonies of bacteria. Around the felt-like greenish mould he noticed a sterile area where the growth of bacteria had been stopped by Penicillium. However, penicillin’s nature and potential use as an antibiotic were not immediately obvious to him and so it was not isolated or developed commercially until the early 1940s.

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Glossary: penicillin

The first antibiotic drug to treat infections which is made from the mould penicillium. Its discovery is attributed to Alexander Fleming in 1928.

Glossary: sterilisation

To make an object free of live bacteria or other micro-organisms. Usually achieved by heat or chemical means.

Glossary: bacteria

Micro-organisms which can cause disease but have an important role in global ecology.

Glossary: antibiotic

A substance that is used to treat infections.

Glossary: bacterial culture

A population of bacterial micro-organisms grown in a laboratory environment. Usually developed in liquid or solid state.

Glossary: culture plate

A culture contained in a flat transparent dish and used chiefly for growing micro-organisms.