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Penicillium mould presented by Alexander Fleming, 1935

In 1928 Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), a British bacteriologist, observed that a stray growth of Penicillium mould could affect colonies of bacteria. Around a felt-like mould he noticed a sterile area where the growth of bacteria had stopped – although he didn’t realise the potential uses of penicillin. Penicillin was eventually isolated in 1940, and from 1942 became an important drug.

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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: microbiology

Branch of biology that deals with micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and their effects.

Glossary: anti-bacterial

A substance that destroys bacteria or slows their growth or reproduction.

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: penicillium mould

A collective growth of penicillium caused by bacteria. This was how penicillin was first discovered and grown by Alexander Fleming.

Glossary: sulfa drug

A group of antibiotics. Sulfa drugs were ‘wonder-drugs’ before penicillin and other antibiotics. They were used to treat diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia.