Lochfield, Scotland, August 6, 1881-London, England, March 11, 1955
The great contribution of Alexander Fleming to the world was, without doubt, penicillin. This important character in the story was a bacteriologist who studied medicine and began research at St. Mary’s Hospital in London as assistant for bacteriologist Almroth Wright.
During World War II he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), where he conducted research on infections that wounded soldiers easily acquired. He discovered that antiseptics used to treat infections would produce more harm than good, and even made some recommendations to improve treatments, although was ignored.
His first major breakthrough came in 1921, when he found the existence of the enzyme lysozyme in nasal mucus, tears and saliva. Fleming mixed this enzyme in bacterial culture, and noticed that after a few weeks the bacteria had vanished. The conclusion: lysozyme has antibacterial effects that protect the body from infection.
He discovered penicillin by accident in 1928. By reviewing Petri dishes, he saw one of them, with a culture of staphylococcus aureus to develop staphylococci, a fungus later known as Penicillium notatum had grown in it. The fungus had destroyed the bacteria and Fleming had discovered the first antibiotic, which revolutionized the world of medicine.
He named the active substance penicillin. Later, scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain developed penicillin that could be used as medicine, and in the 1940s it was already sold in bulk, mainly in the battlefields during World War II. Fleming, Florey and Chain shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.
Joined as a member of the Royal Society of London in 1943 and in 1948 he became Professor Emeritus of Bacteriology at the University of London. He served as president of the Society for General Microbiology and was made a Knight Bachelor in 1944.
After his discovery, millions of lives were saved by the use of penicillin.