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"It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought and perception of an individual."~ Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming

One man discovered one of the most important contributions to medicine--penicillin--on this day in 1928... and it was an accident!

British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered how bread mold, which had accidentally contaminated a staphylococcus culture, stopped the bacteria's growth.

"A simple chance observation," Fleming said. "One sometimes finds what one is not looking for."

The active ingredient in that mold-- what Fleming called penicillin--killed germs. This discovery, what Fleming called a triumph of accident," changed the world.

With further work by other scientists, penicillin helped fight infections in World War II. With the discovery of higher-yielding molds, penicillium was used to treat such deadly diseases as pneumonia, diphtheria, syphilis, and spinal meningitis.

"A discovery," said Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, "is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind."

Knighted in 1944, Fleming was a well-disciplined scientist who quickly recognized and acted upon his "accidental" discovery. The father of modern antibiotics, he won the 1945 Nobel Prize for physiology.

"Nature makes penicillin," he said modestly, "I just found it."

Alexander FlemingScience unravels mysteries and reveals secrets.