The Discovery Of Penicillin
Alexander Fleming fortuitously discovered the antibacterial properties of a Penicillium mould in 1928. During the Second World War much use was made of penicillin in the treatment of battle wounds. Between the years of 1943 and 1955, when he died, Fleming received around 172 honours from all over the world.
Penicillin transformed the treatment of many infections. One such infection was Staphylococcus aureus.
Fleming, in his acceptance speech for The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, gave the portentous warning that using penicillin inappropriately might lead to the development of resistance. Sure enough, resistance to penicillin of strains of Staphylococcus aureus became a major problem in hospitals in the 1950s. This resistance was caused by the selection of strains of staphylococcus that could produce the enzyme penicillinase (a drug destroying enzyme). These penicillin resistant Staphylococcus stimulated interest in developing semi synthetic penicillins able to withstand the enzyme. The first of these, produced in 1959, was methicillin.
Resistance to methicillin of Staphylococcus aureus was detected within a year of the antibiotic appearing on the market.