The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Dr. Alexander Fleming. (image: file)
It may be well known that Dr. Alexander Fleming is credited with the discovery of penicillin, but few people are aware of the fact that during World War II, the US military and government were working on two top secret projects, one of which was an atomic bomb and the other was penicillin.
In August of 1928, Dr. Fleming was so busy with his research on various microbes that he had to go on vacation for a few days so that he could leave without carefully preserving his microbe samples. The result of this negligence was that some mold spores that had entered from the neighboring laboratory got into her samples. By the time Dr. Fleming returned, no one had paid any attention to his samples and the fungus had had a chance to spoil the samples. Now that the holiday was over, when Dr. Fleming looked at his samples, he was horrified to find that where the microbes ought to have been, fungi existed along with fungi and bacteria farther away. For a moment, Fleming did not understand whether his head had been hit or the people in the lab had told him, but since it was his fault, no one had to say anything. Well, Fleming kept his head on his lab table and looked at these samples.
Read the first part of the article here: The Magic Bullet; The origin of antibiotics
Click here to read Part 2: The Magic Bullet; Friend of the enemy of the enemy (Part 2)
Read Part 3 of the blog here: Magic Bullet; A Forced Father (Part Three)
While looking at bacteria and fungi, Fleming suddenly realized that before he went on vacation, the sample in which the mushroom now lives was full of bacteria. Can fungi grow on these spores? This question confused Fleming’s mind. With this idea, Fleming began looking at the samples upside down. Fleming’s lab colleagues, who thought Fleming was picking up samples and throwing them in the trash, are now watching him curiously.
Fleming, unaware of his colleagues’ eyes, could nowhere see the microbe and the fungus together, as if there was an invisible barrier between the two preventing them from meeting each other. Thinking about this barrier, Fleming realized that the fungus was making a substance or chemical that kept bacteria away. After further experiments, Fleming confirmed his hypothesis that the fungus does indeed produce a substance that prevents microbes from thriving and multiplying near it. The name of the fungus was Penicillium, so the substance was called penicillin accordingly.
After his experiments, Dr. Fleming indicated in a paper that this penicillin could be used in the treatment of patients suffering from bacterial diseases. Fleming tried to distill penicillin, but failed. After this failure, he did not do any further research on how to use penicillin in treatment, so the greatest medical discovery of the last century was buried in the cold room until 1938.
At the end of the third decade of the twentieth century, the world was on the brink of World War II. In Europe, Germany under Hitler was spreading its arms, on the other hand, the expansionist ambitions of Soviet Russia were not hidden from anyone. In Soviet Russia, Felix de Hurley’s discovery of germ-eating viruses was used as a disinfectant, while Germany, on the other hand, had a sulfonamide-like Gerhardt antiseptic, as Britain felt such an acute shortage. It was reported that they did not have any disinfectants available to treat their soldiers.
Feeling the lack of disinfectants will certainly come as a surprise to you, as these vast empires maintain huge armies of millions of soldiers, with new and devastating weapons being produced every day such as warships, submarines, tanks and missiles. What is special? The significance of such a secondary medicine? Your surprise and this question is absolutely correct and the answer to this question is hidden in the first world war. During World War I, the cause of death from enemy bullets was not the number of germs. This meant that if a soldier was wounded in battle, due to lack of proper care in conditions of war, his injuries would only get worse, often resulting in the amputation of an arm and a leg. Bacteria were the only reason these wounds deteriorated (like today’s diabetics, if they are not careful, their wounds, especially the feet and legs, deteriorate). As a result of World War I, millions of these soldiers had to wash their hands, and now that war is knocking on the doorstep once more, a solution to these microbes was needed.
In 1939, two researchers from the University of Oxford, EB Chen and HW Florey, decided to work on disinfectants in changing world conditions. During his studies, he came across Fleming’s research paper which mentioned penicillin. After a little searching, he found the same fungus as in Fleming’s samples, from which he decided to get penicillin. (In one of my previous articles I mentioned how to grow microorganisms, so I won’t go into too much detail just to tell you that when we want to identify a microorganism, we grow it on a jelly medium. And if there is any substance, chemical, etc., it is obtained obtained from this organism, it is cultured in broth or broth.)
Penicillium was grown in broth. When enough fungi had grown, they separated the fungi from the liquid broth and used the spent broth against these microbes to see if the germ-killing potential of penicillin was present in the solution or in the fungal cells. This experiment was very important because if penicillin was not present in the broth solution, all further strategies would have to be adopted completely differently. Well, their experiment was successful as there was no bacterial growth in the presence of the broth solution used, i.e. penicillin was dissolved in it. Now the most important thing is to find out if this penicillin does not have any toxic or harmful effects on animals. For this purpose, it was decided to carry out an experiment similar to that of Robert Kach, the mice were injected with the used mushroom broth and waited to see if the mice remained healthy after the injection or showed any signs of illness or poisoning. Including? By the grace of God, the wait is over and all the mice are safe and alive in their cages. So from these experiments it became clear two things: that penicillin could be obtained from the broth that the fungus used after it had grown, and secondly that it had no significant adverse effects.
Now the next step was to distill the largest amount of penicillin by growing mushrooms. Recognizing NG Hatley’s talent for this task, he was invited to become a member of the team, which he accepted. Hatley was the first to describe the initial method for testing disinfectants, so that in the future all experiments could be done in a standardized way, rather than using different methods for each person. Hatley was then able to distill the penicillin from the spent mushroom broth. There were literally hundreds of other substances and compounds in the broth besides penicillin, so the approved method was to use several organic solvents and see how much penicillin was dissolved in them and what the densities of all the other substances were. Among all these solutions, the one with the most penicillin and the least of the other solutions was chosen, and thus the distillation process was successfully carried out.
Now is the time to multiply the fungus massively and get more penicillin. For this purpose, vessels resembling frying pans with a wide base were designed in which the broth was filled with penicillin sprinkled on the surface and kept at a certain temperature so that the fungus could grow well and produce penicillin.
Finally, after months of hard work, enough penicillin was collected for animal testing. For this test, an experiment similar to that of Pavel Ehrlich was performed with Salversan 606. The mice were divided into two groups and injected with lethal amounts of streptococcus bacteria into their blood. One group of mice was injected with penicillin while the other was not, and both groups were observed.
This was the first time that penicillin had been injected into the body of an animal, so everyone’s curiosity was at its peak. The mice in the control group that were not injected with penicillin were immune to all the bacteria and died, while all the mice given penicillin were alive and well. After this success, everyone again took part in the development of penicillin, and the next step was testing penicillin in humans.
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