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Thread: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

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    Default 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

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    Scientists throw away contaminated petri dishes every day. There is probably a frustrated researcher chucking her petri dishes into the bin right now as you read these words, cursing at the contaminant that ruined her experiment.

    In those petri dishes are soft beds of agar that bacteria feast upon. Hundreds of bacterial colonies grow on the agar, each one containing millions of bacterial cells. But fungal spores lurk in the air, and if one of them happens to land on the agar, it may grow better than the bacteria. When a mould appears in a researcher’s bacterial dish, it is not a good thing.

    Unless you were keeping your eyes peeled for a substance that can kill bacteria.

    In the 1920s, a scientist named Alexander Fleming at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, UK, was doing just that. Fleming was growing colonies of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on his petri dish plates. The species is commonly found on the skin, where it normally lives in peace, but it can turn into a deadly troublemaker if it finds its way into the bloodstream.

    One of Fleming’s first discoveries was that snot could kill it. He soon isolated the murderous enzyme (lysozyme), but it proved to be a rather weak assassin with no viable therapeutic potential. Besides, it would have been a marketing nightmare. What would you call it? Snoticide? Boogie bombs?

    One fateful autumn day in 1928, Fleming arrived at his laboratory to a pile of petri dishes that needed cleaning. While sorting through them, he noticed a mould growing on one of his culture dishes of S. aureus. He had undoubtedly seen a contaminated dish of bacteria before, but something more caught his eye that day. It turned out to be the discovery of a lifetime – one that has saved an incalculable number of lives.

    As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favours only the prepared mind.” Fleming’s mind was prepared, and he was always on the lookout for things that could kill bacteria. On that contaminated plate of S. aureus, he astutely noted that bacterial colonies grew better if they were farther away from the mould. In fact, no colonies could grow next to the mould.

    He figured that the mould was producing a substance that was actively killing any bacteria that dared to come near it. The miserly mould would want to do this so it could have all the nutrients to itself. Fleming named this mystery bacteria-slaying substance “penicillin”, since the mould species was called Penicillium.

    He published this extraordinary finding in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in 1929 and the world … paid absolutely no attention to it at all.

    Pathogenic bacteria continued to lead tens of millions of people to early graves through the 1930s. Fleming was no chemist, so he was not in a position to isolate the active ingredient that was killing the bacteria. He needed help. But try as he might, he couldn’t get other scientists interested in the promise of mould as a remedy for bacterial infections.

    In hindsight, that seems crazy. But there were practical issues that dampened enthusiasm for his idea.

    At the time, fungi were very difficult to grow in bulk, and the strain of Penicillium Fleming promoted produced very little penicillin.

    His follow-up studies also suggested that penicillin would not work well in the clinic. Because it was so rare, he was forced to use low doses in his attempts to treat ill patients.

    He also applied the “mould juice” topically on the skin instead of injecting it into the bloodstream, which would have been far more effective. These poorly designed experiments led many to the false conclusion that penicillin was an impotent bacterial assassin. You can imagine the sceptics dismissing his work: “First snot, now mould juice? C’mon, Fleming.” Consequently, the discovery laid dormant for over a decade.

    In 1939, while leafing through back issues of the British Journal of Experimental Pathology, a chemist at Oxford named Howard Florey decided to revisit Fleming’s ignored penicillin paper. Together with Ernst Boris Chain, this dynamic duo produced a highly purified mould extract and injected it into mice with sepsis. The pair soon published the striking result that their Penicillium extracts cured the mice of this deadly bacterial infection.

    Imagine Fleming’s response when he woke up one day to read this report! He was thrilled that someone was making use of his old work and immediately called Florey to arrange a visit to their laboratory. Chain was surprised to hear that he would get to meet Fleming, as he was under the impression that Fleming had passed away.

    The trio won the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and inspired many microbiologists to search for more bacteria-killing microbes out in the wild.
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    90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world (LINK)


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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Well, Most feel anti biotics are the bomb, but they may come back and bite us in the butt.
    People are getting weaker and the bugs are getting stronger.
    like the title sez ,it’s less than a hundred years.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Some more here from a 106-year-old researcher, a former student of Sir Alexander Fleming :

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/p...flaw-756lfc6lc

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by wizbang 13 View Post
    People are getting weaker and the bugs are getting stronger.

    Some bacteria have become drug resistant, yes, but is it supportable that drug administration has resulted in a weaker population?
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    I always think of this discovery when people criticize post hoc analyses.
    During WWII penicillin production was moved to the US, to protect it from the Germans; at the end of the war, the drug was cheaper than the packaging that contained it.

    Resistance was noted at that time

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Phage therapy could save us from future non-working antibiotics. Naturally occuring bacteriophages evolve in-step with increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (Frank! would dismiss this, of course...)

    Andy
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by twodot View Post
    Some bacteria have become drug resistant, yes, ......
    Indeed.

    Quote Originally Posted by twodot View Post
    ....but is it supportable that drug administration has resulted in a weaker population?
    'Auto-immune disease' is what one hears off a great deal these days.

    Reflection of a population with weaker defenses against bacteria, due perhaps to stress levels, diet deficiencies etc....... or bacteria which have become drug-resistant....... or both ?

    Or neither of the above ?

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    It saved my life in 1969, I almost lost my left leg.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    The indiscriminate, profligate and hap-hazard way that these drugs are, or were, used in agriculture and dispensed a pill at a time in 3rd world countries has contributed greatly to the development of immunity by the bacteriological agent they originally controlled. A common behaviour in many other fields by our species and we may yet become the agents of our own downfall.
    The Spanish flu, just post WW1, was a bigger killer of populations than the black death and some health authorities think we are vulnerable now to a similar pathogen as yet not discovered.

    Happy new year…………...

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by skuthorp View Post
    The Spanish flu, just post WW1, was a bigger killer of populations than the black death...
    Difficult to say - both are estimated to have killed around the 100 million mark, but the Black Death occurred at a time when the population was very much lower: death rates for the Black Death reached 50% in some cities, while Spanish flu 'merely' killed off 10 to 20% who got it.

    Andy
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by David W Pratt View Post
    I always think of this discovery when people criticize post hoc analyses.
    During WWII penicillin production was moved to the US, to protect it from the Germans; at the end of the war, the drug was cheaper than the packaging that contained it.

    Resistance was noted at that time
    Another gift, from Australia to the world
    "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome and charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime" Mark Twain... so... Carpe the living sh!t out of the Diem

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by Dannybb55 View Post
    It saved my life in 1969, I almost lost my left leg.
    Phage therapy ?

    The US has authorised its use in a couple of States - Texas included - by naturo-physicians; other Western nations have not (to this date).

    On the naturo note, it was only around 10-15 years ago that India passed legislation authorising the practice of Ayurveda - thousands of years old, like metallurgy, and its legendary 'Damascus steel' - who meet the academic requirements of a course of study at accredited Ayurveda teaching institutions.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by The Bigfella View Post
    Another gift, from Australia to the world
    Indeed, as also some top-notch individuals in the life-sciences, to include the doc who finally dispelled the tragedy that used to befall people with gastric ulcers (he meticulously and judiciously tracked it down to a bacterial ailment, treatable with off-the-shelf antibiotics, much to the distress of a whole brigade of greedy, health barons.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by The Bigfella View Post
    Another gift, from Australia to the world

    I am curious, in what way?
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Just guesing ...but there were a great deal of Aussies battling in the jungles of SouthEast Asia (WW II), infested with death-dealing menaces of every living sort.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by twodot View Post
    I am curious, in what way?
    Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, said, "In terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia"
    "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome and charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime" Mark Twain... so... Carpe the living sh!t out of the Diem

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by The Bigfella View Post
    Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, said, "In terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia"
    Thanks!
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Spanish influenza was viral in origin; penicillin wouldn't have touched it. Even today flu is not so much treated as prevented

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by David W Pratt View Post
    Spanish influenza was viral in origin; penicillin wouldn't have touched it. Even today flu is not so much treated as prevented
    Pencillin combats the secondary infections that may arise subsequent to an attack of flu.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by carioca1232001 View Post
    Phage therapy ?

    The US has authorised its use in a couple of States - Texas included - by naturo-physicians; other Western nations have not (to this date).
    Woah! Stop right there. A bacteriophage is a virus that targets a bacteria. There's nothing naturopathic or 'woo' about it. As a therapy it took off in Georgia and the Soviet states due to a lack of access to antibiotics. That does not make it 'alternative medicine' in the pejorative sense.

    Andy
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    At least the Black Death had some benefits.
    Quote Originally Posted by AndyG View Post
    Difficult to say - both are estimated to have killed around the 100 million mark, but the Black Death occurred at a time when the population was very much lower: death rates for the Black Death reached 50% in some cities, while Spanish flu 'merely' killed off 10 to 20% who got it.

    Andy
    Xanthorrea

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    It's a spectacular gift.

    Chance favours only the prepared mind.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by AndyG View Post
    Woah! Stop right there. A bacteriophage is a virus that targets a bacteria. There's nothing naturopathic or 'woo' about it. As a therapy it took off in Georgia and the Soviet states due to a lack of access to antibiotics. That does not make it 'alternative medicine' in the pejorative sense.

    Andy
    Thanks.

    Had never heard of phage therapy !

    From the link you supplied, the phage needs to be 'brewed' as per the carachteristics of the patient + bacterial infection, and the problem seems to be the production of endotoxins which can cause toxic shock and even kill the patient.

    Medical science was aware of it, long before the advent of Dr Alexander Fleming´s discovery of antibiotics and penicillin.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by carioca1232001 View Post
    From the link you supplied, the phage needs to be 'brewed' as per the carachteristics of the patient + bacterial infection, and the problem seems to be the production of endotoxins which can cause toxic shock and even kill the patient.
    Yeah, I wouldn't want an endotoxin home brew injection. Sounds like backwoods moonshine, tasty, but the methanol will kill you.
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    The history of sulfa drugs, prontosil, is also intetesting:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prontosil
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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    In 1950, my brother was delivered in an Army hospital in Oak Ridge Tennessee. Some mucky-muck in admin decided that a pennicilin paste should be applied to a newborn's eyelids.
    My brother almost died.

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    Default Re: 90 years ago, a contaminated petri dish changed the world

    Quote Originally Posted by twodot View Post
    The history of sulfa drugs, prontosil, is also intetesting:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prontosil
    So sulfa drugs were first discovered in Germany in the early 1930´s. My father (born 1897) - same generation as the physician at Columbia, the first to use sulfa drugs in the US - would buy 'sulfamezathine' and 'sulfaguanidine' in the early 1950´s to hand out to his patients. Pakaged in paint-size (gallon) cans branded by ICI (a former British chemicals heavyweight).

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