Penicillin, Alexander Fleming, Beatrix Potter discussed on Invention
Seven W M Z Q in Washington DC or wherever the rotates you on the iheartradio APP. All right we're back now. We'll get to Alexander Fleming in a minute With the discovery of penicillin but Alexander Fleming was not the first person to notice that there might be some anti microbial. Properties of certain fungi. That's right there was there was work going on in this area of prior to Fleming Fleming was was picking up On some of it and and really just overall our understanding of fungi in general was advancing as we mentioned in our psychedelics episodes. You know there was a time where we did not recognize fun guy as being separate from the realm of plants right Before we realize that it was a kingdom unto itself in all ultimately kingdom. That has a little more in common with the the animal kingdom than it does with the plant kingdom and a lot of talented folks working in this area but one of them might come us as opposed to a lot of people in this because her name was Beatrix Potter the Bunny Rabbit. A bunny rabbits yes. Okay off the bunny rabbit fame. I was kind of a curious coincidence because I was reading about all this and then just randomly on the stuff to blow your mind discussion module. Which is the FACEBOOK Group for people? Listen to the show to discuss episodes. Someone brought up trix Potter in regards to something to do with squirrels. Because there's a lot of squirrel squirrel content in the discussion module and they brought a beatrix potter and Beatrix Potter actually ties in to this episode. A little bit because in addition to being the author and illustrator of the the tale of Peter Rabbit and associated British animal tales. She was also a naturalist with a great deal of interest in astronomy and most importantly of all my college ready so she produced a lot of just beautiful scientific watercolor illustrations. Various fungi in her neck of the British would part of her studies. And if you studied a lot of a local mold as well and did illustrations of them. She's she's a legitimately a very interesting character. That was you know. Unfortunately she lives in a time in which the sexism of the day prevented her from. I think reaching the heights of in the natural sciences that she would have been afforded later on But in a lot of her work is also just being. I think rediscovered in appreciated for the first time You know in recent decades but the yeah the next time someone busts out some the trix Potter A. Remember this is not just an individual who wrote some fanciful tales and illustrated them. She was also just issues out there. Studying the natural world and create a in in advancing our understanding of the my college. She was sort of looking into the hidden life of nature in multiple ways. Yeah you know I see some sources that are asking the question. Okay was Beatrix Potter. Sheer true naturalist a true natural scientists over she just a an amateur. That was just very interested in these things. And I don't know it's kind of complicated question to ask when you consider the limitations In the Victorian era for women but I think undoubtedly she she D- I would side with the fact that she was a natural scientist I mean she authored or co authored one paper if I remember correctly so I'm I'm GonNa give her giver full credit. Was it about a guy it was a it was a mushroom in particular I forget it was one of those related to the Russillo mushrooms but I forget which species but Basically she was she was kind of up against the Patriarchy for the most part though. Yeah well is it. Time to turn to penicillin itself. Yes let's turn to this the key discovery here and our inventor are discover Alexander Fleming. Okay so who was Alexander Fleming? Okay so Fleming was born in eighteen. Eighty one died in nineteen fifty five and he was a Scottish biologist. Physician microbiologist and pharmacologist. He was the son of a farmer and he observed and studied a great deal of death from Sepsis in World War One. He observed that while antiseptics worked well at the surface deeper wounds sheltered bacteria from the effects of things like sulfur. Drugs right so if you have the kind of superficial wound you could clean it off pretty good and that might help protect you from From bacterial infection. But if you have a deep wound and say like dirty stuff it's of soil and other crud gets lodged deep in there. You might not be able to clean the wound out very well right. And it's exactly the kind of stuff that's going to get lodged in there especially with your war wounds where there is a stab or or or deep cutoff or a bullet entering the body. We'll makes me think about The when we were reading about the idea of stegosaurus perhaps weaponized. I mean not consciously stegosaurus perhaps Having an adaptation to weaponize infection against its enemies oh by dragging its dagga demise or spikes through the Dung right exactly yeah having dirty. Bagga miser spikes and then when it wax the T. rex in the crotch with them that That gets infected later and eliminates a Predator from the area and The the the predators of the day would not have had access antibiotics certainly not or even that beer from and we mentioned earlier so Fleming was devoted himself to research and he Prior to penicillin he discovered license. Ximen naturally occurring enzyme mucus and other parts of the body than inhibits bacteria. So you know. He was already in this area. You know looking for for new New Breakthroughs new discoveries but then his biggest breakthrough of all is this discovery of penicillin. And it's truly one of the more amazing invention slash discovery moments from history because while he was exactly the right person to make the discovery and then deserves all the credit he was given the key. Moment comes down really to pure luck and we simply don't know if anyone else would have made the discovery if he had not been there to observe it. Okay so what happened with this discovery so around? Nineteen twenty seven or so. He had engaged himself in studying STAPHYLOCOCCI or staff and he had stacks of Petri dishes dish specimens in his lab which I've seen described as being kind of an untidy lab a- petri dishes full staff all over the place notes and so forth and so the key moment comes in September of Nineteen. Twenty eight right right so he has these staff petri dishes out and then he leaves them for the weekend to go on holiday with his family. Any when he comes back he expects to just see how they've progressed. See how they've grown but he finds that they haven't grown in fact they have died. Something has ravaged his specimens. Yeah now it's this is one of those stories where he gets very narrative is so you do have to wonder if some details of it or embellish to how how the story may have changed over time but is the way the story has been passed down and I think it seems to be largely basically true The way that I've seen the story often told us that he comes in. There's a blob of mold growing in one of the plates and all around the mold. There's this halo of nothingness. Swear you know normally what you would see is that if you've got a plate for culturing bacteria they would be these little dots and blobs on the on the plate but instead there's this halo where there's no bacteria bacterial dead zone now. Of course we know. Staphylococcus is a bacterium group linked to all kinds of human disease and misery. Staph infections right. If this mold could kill staff that seems medically relevant. So what happened here? Well He? He realized that he was dealing with some sort of a fungi. Luckily there was a my college est with a lab just below Fleming on the floor below his lab a man by the name of cj La Touche and in fact it's also been suspected that the mold and question that killed Fleming's the staff might have drifted up from a low shays lab adding extra element of weird chance to this whole situation. Okay so perhaps. His samples were contaminated by stuff from the lab next door or down a floor right. That's one that's not. That's not a theory that's presented in every source but it does pop up fairly frequently so specifically this mold was what would later be identified. As a strain of penicillin no tottenham and. It was obvious that it's secreted something that prevented staph bacteria from growing and so fleming followed up in studying the secretion. This this mold juice says I've seen it called he. He found that it didn't only prevent the growth of staphylococcus. It WORKED AGAINST COMMON. Bacteria like streptococcus or meningococcus and and the back and also against the bacterium that Causes Diptheria. Interestingly while Fleming did see applications for penicillin curing disease and he mentioned them briefly in the paper he published in nineteen twenty nine about this discovery about The antibacterial properties of concilium He primarily thought of this secretion of penicillin as a tool for bacteriologist to sort strains of bacteria basically into penicillin sensitive versus non penicillin sensitive species and that could be useful in the lab. Yes so he. Sometimes criticised is really not understanding completely what he had here not having the vision to see where could go well. I don't think he completely understood. He did indicate that this could possibly have uses in medicine right Fleming and his assistance Stewart. Craddock in Frederick Row Ridley tried for years to turn this accidental discovery into a stable isolated compound that would be useful and this. This was a problem because like so. You've got the secretion from the mold molds making some juice it's Kinda getting stuff wet with this stuff that that That fights bacterial growth. But they couldn't isolate the compound that was causing the effect and stabilize it and make it make it generally useful So to quote from Aminov Paper Aminov that I mentioned earlier quote for twelve years after his initial observation Alexander Fleming was trying to get chemists interested in resolving persisting problems with the purification and stability of the active substance and supplied the penicillin strain to anyone requesting it. But he really he he. He could never crack the nut ultimately and he didn't finally make this discovery of the process for For stabilizing and isolating the compound and by nineteen forty off rights that Fleming finally abandoned quest but fortunately it was right about that time that a capable team at Oxford University including the researchers Howard Florey and Ernst chain or Chine they Picked up on this research. And they they kicked off the research project. That would eventually break through on this And they're all these interesting story so of course this is wild World War Two is going on right so research conditions are not ideal and then there are all these stories about how they turned their lab at Oxford into this giant incubation center or sort of factory for mold like they employed all these lab assistants were these women who had been referred to in some sources as the penicillin girls and they would work too like they would work to grow the penicillin and buckets and tubs and basically every container that they could and Eventually they did they were able to isolate and stabilize this compound so to quote from an article From the American Chemical Society in Nineteen forty. Flory that'd be Howard. Florey carried out. Vital experiments showing penicillin could protect mice against infection from deadly STREPTOCOCCI then on February Twelfth Nineteen Forty One. A forty three year old policeman. Albert Alexander became the first recipient of the Oxford Penicillin. He'd scratched the side of his mouth while pruning roses and a developed a life threatening infection with huge abscesses affecting his is facing lungs. Penicillin was injected and within days. He made a remarkable recovery. But unfortunately despite this recovery which lasted for a few days they ran out of the drug and Alexander eventually got worse again and he died and I was reading that they were so desperate to cure him. That after Alexander urinated while on his antibiotic course they would collect the urine and tried to extract the penicillin. He excreted again so that it could be re administered to him And I should mention also that the the process that the Oxford team relied on to extract and purify the penicillin and the mold juice was led by another Important biochemist a guy named number nine Heatley but this case of Albert Alexander shows and obvious early problem. They had which was the problem of scale. They simply lacked the ability to make penicillin at the scale it. That would be needed to treat. Even one person let alone the whole world The strain of mold that they were using didn't make enough of it and this led to the search for other species of the same fungal genus penicillin. Which would maybe they thought produced higher concentrations of the penicillin filter rate and. I was reading an interesting article by the University of Michigan Physician and medical historian Howard Markel. That tells a really interesting story. I'd never heard about this So the story goes like this. Apparently one of the assistance at the Oxford lab showed up for work one day in nineteen forty one with a cantaloupe that she'd bought at the market because it was covered in a weird looking golden mold which is great. Because this would be the one case where somebody is picking over the fresh produce to like find the moldy one The mold on this cantaloupe turned out to be a strain of concilium called Penicillin Chris. Gm which Markle says naturally produced at least about two hundred times as much penicillin as the original strain that they've been studying and then later markel writes that the same strain was subjected to mutagenic processes in the lab so bombarding with X. Rays and stuff to produce a mutated strain. That would make two thousand times as much penicillin as the old school fleming. Mold so by Nineteen Forty. One Penicillin is on its way to becoming a viable medicine. All right on that note. We're GONNA take a quick break and when we come back we're going to look at the impact of penicillin and we're GONNA look at it in.