Fleming , Sir Alexander

Fleming , Sir Alexander
(1881–1955) British bacteriologist
Fleming was born at Lochfield in Scotland. After his early education at Kilmarnock Academy and the London Polytechnic Institute, he began his career at the age of 16 as a shipping clerk in a London office. With encouragement from his brother, who was a doctor, he became a medical student at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1902 and graduated from the University of London in 1908. He worked at St. Mary's all his life apart from 1914–18, when he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During this time he became interested in the control of wound infections and was a vigorous supporter of the physiological treatment of wounds rather than treatment using harsh chemicals, such as carbolic acid. In the 1920s he studied various body secretions and their effects on bacteria. Thus he discovered lysozyme, a bacteriolytic enzyme that is present in serum, saliva, and tears, publishing his findings in 1922.
In 1928 Fleming was appointed professor of bacteriology and in the same year he made his most important discovery. After accidentally leaving a dish of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Fleming noticed certain clear areas in the culture. He found these areas were due to contamination by a mold he identified asPenicillium notatum, which produced a substance that killed the bacteria. Fleming named this substance ‘penicillin’ and tested the bactericidal effect of the mold on various different bacteria, observing that it killed some but not others. He appreciated the potential of his discovery but was unable to isolate and identify the compound. It was not until World War II, with the urgent need for new antibacterial drugs, that penicillin – the first antibiotic – was finally isolated by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain.
Fleming was awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine jointly with Florey and Chain for his discovery, which initiated a whole new range of lifesaving antibiotics. He received a knighthood in 1944 and many other honors.

Scientists. . 2011.

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