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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
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Icon:Fleming's penicillin mould, 1935

related ingenious images © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

This sample marks the transformation of penicillin from an interesting phenomenon to a potential drug.

Discovering in 1928 that a strain of penicillium mould exuded a substance which killed certain bacteria, Alexander Fleming did not immediately think of it as a medicine. However, when the German firm IG Farben announced the first general-purpose bacteria-killing drug, Prontosil, Fleming changed his views. He gave this sample of mould to a colleague at St Mary's Hospital after a conversation about Prontosil and its possible application to ward off infection.

Penicillin was eventually isolated in Oxford in 1939, and from 1942 became an important drug.

Inv. 1997-731
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