Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. It is said he noticed some blue-green penicillium mould on an uncovered petri dish at his hospital laboratory, and that this mould had inhibited bacterial growth around it. After further work, Fleming filtered a broth of the mould and called that penicillin, hoping it would be useful as a disinfectant. Howard Florey and Ernst Chain later shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine with Fleming, for their role in developing a way of mass-producing the life-saving drug. Evolutionary theory predicted the risk of resistance from the start and, almost from the beginning of this ‘golden age’ of antibacterials, scientists have been looking for ways to extend the lifespan of antibiotics.

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  • Laura Piddock No other episodes
    Professor of Microbiology at the University of Birmingham
  • Christoph Tang No other episodes
    Professor of Cellular Pathology and Professorial Fellow at Exeter College at the University of Oxford
  • Steve Jones 22 episodes
    Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College, London

Reading list

  • Laura Piddock at the University of Birmingham
  • Christoph Tang at the University of Oxford
  • Steve Jones at University College London
  • Alexander Fleming - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Alexander Fleming - ODNB podcast
  • Penicillin - Wikipedia
  • 'What if Fleming had not discovered penicillin?' - Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences
  • Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin - Advances in Applied Microbiology
  • 'Origins and Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance' - Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
  • 'Antibiotic Resistance within Staphylococcus Aureus' - MicrobeWiki
  • 'Antibiotic Resistance Threats Report and Foodborne Germs' - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • 'New Report Tracks Rise of Antibiotic Resistance in Humans and Livestock' - Modern Farmer
  • Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution
    Kevin Brown (The History Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat
    Sally Davies, Jonathan Grant and Mike Catchpole (Penguin, 2013) Google Books →
  • Gut: The Inside Story of our Body's Most Under-rated Organ
    Giulia Enders (Scribe Publications, 2015) Google Books →
  • The Mould in Dr Florey's Coat: The Remarkable True Story of the Penicillin Miracle
    Eric Lax (Abacus, 2005) Google Books →
  • Howard Florey: The Making of a Great Scientist
    Gwyn Macfarlane (Oxford University Press, 1979) Google Books →
  • Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth
    Gwyn Macfarlane (Harvard University Press, 1984) Google Books →
  • Wounded: The Long Journey Home From the Great War
    Emily Mayhew (Vintage, 2014) Google Books →

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Auto-category: 615.3 (Antibiotics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 1928, the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming noticed something odd on a Petri dish he'd left out in his laboratory, St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.