Who invented the lysozyme?

Discovery of penicillin - a coincidence

In the beginning there was chance - or as Alexander Fleming himself said:

"Sometimes someone finds something they weren't looking for."

Fleming had grown bacteria called staphylococci.

"He had a few Petri dishes in the laboratory - flat glass dishes - with cultures of these pathogens."

He must have forgotten to dispose of a few bowls before his vacation. Back in his laboratory at Saint Mary's Hospital in London, he found it in the sink. That was in September 1928, recalled his widow and assistant Amalia.

"And when he later looked at one of these bowls, he noticed that mold had grown on the nutrient medium."

Molds - nothing unusual in a biological laboratory.

"The only unusual thing was that in this case he noticed something that no one had seen before. There were no staphylococci around the blue-green mold."

Fleming was interested in this, as he had long been looking for active ingredients that kill disease-causing bacteria - without endangering the patient's life at the same time.
Alexander Fleming was born on August 6, 1881 in Loudon, Scotland, a small village on the Ayrshire moors. After the death of his father, he moved to London and studied medicine there from 1901. In 1908 he started at Saint Mary's Hospital. During the First World War he worked as a military doctor in Boulogne sur Mer, France.

"Penicillin wasn't the first antibiotic I discovered."

A runny nose gave Fleming the idea in 1921 to drip some nasal secretions onto his bacterial cultures. The bacteria dissolved within a few seconds. Fleming isolated an enzyme he called "lysozyme". He also found it in the tear fluid, in the sweat and in the egg white of the chicken.

"Unfortunately, the bacteria on which the lysozyme was particularly strong were the ones that don't make us humans sick."

But Fleming now knew what a good antibiotic had to be able to do. And when he saw the mold in its bacterial culture under the microscope in 1928, he quickly realized that he had achieved his goal.

"He then began to carefully examine this mold. It turned out that it belonged to the Penicillium group. And so he named the new substance penicillin."

He systematically tested which bacteria are sensitive to penicillin and which are not. And he wanted to know whether the substance also had undesirable effects, says Amalia Fleming.

"Penicillin, on the other hand, generally does not damage the body's cells, but it kills a very large number of dangerous pathogens."

Fleming summarized the results of his laboratory tests and first attempts at healing in an article. On May 10, 1929, he submitted the manuscript to the British Journal of Experimental Pathology. Initially, the work received little attention; until World War II. Chemists around Howard Florey and Ernst Chain from Oxford University tried to produce penicillin in larger quantities. The first factories were built in the United States to meet the needs of the army.

"An American machine with the new remedy penicillin lands on Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin. It is intended for use in German hospitals."

Penicillin came to Germany only after the war, in 1946.

"Penicillin is only effective when injected into a muscle. It has been shown to be beneficial for blood poisoning, meningitis, pneumonia and gonorrhea."

Penicillin was quickly seen as a miracle cure. Sir Alexander Fleming, as he was allowed to call himself since 1944, already saw the risks of careless use of the antibiotic.

"" If you take penicillin - take enough of it ","

so he warned on December 10, 1945 when he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He knew: if antibiotics are given too low or too short a dose, bacteria become insensitive. Resistant bacteria are one of the most pressing problems facing medicine today - despite a wide range of different antibiotics.

On March 11, 1955, Alexander Fleming died of a heart attack.