It was the wonder drug of the 20th century: A yellow liquid that seeps from the spores of the Penicillium fungal mold and contains a compound that shatters the cell walls of bacteria responsible for common diseases such as pneumonia, strep throat, scarlet fever, syphilis, and meningitis. With steep reductions in human mortality rates and drastic improvements in quality of life, penicillin may very well be one of mankind’s greatest discoveries.
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Scottish doctor Alexander Fleming observed the mold killing his Staphylococcus cultures in late 1928 while working at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. But by the start of World War II, no one had figured out how to efficiently extract the active ingredient from Penicillium, whose concentration “is almost the same as gold in sea water,” says Robert Bud, Principal Curator of Medicine at The Science Museum in London and author of Penicillin: Triumph and Tragedy....


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