No New Thing under the Sun (?): On Claims to the Discovery of Penicillin prior to 1928

Since penicillin came to be developed as an anti-bacterial chemotherapeutic agent during the Second World War numerous challenges to the status of Alexander Fleming as its discoverer have appeared both in print and in other formats. These assertions are examined here from the perspective of current views on Penicillium systematics and the wide array of secondary metabolites produced by this particular genus. The tendency to seek to credit a single individual for having made a particular discovery distorts the way by which discoveries are generally made. Alexander Fleming’s crucial contribution is here set in context against both earlier observations of microbial antagonism and the long-standing and culturally widespread practice of employing a variety of mouldy substrates to treat infections.


Gilbert Shama

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