Superdrugs battle bacteria

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2008, 12:00am

World's first antibiotic

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish doctor working in England, discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1928. His discovery was partially accidental.

Fleming was a research scientist studying the Staphylococcus bacteria. When he went for a fortnight's holiday, he left his lab in a mess. When he returned, the bacteria had covered his slides - except for a clean bit next to a patch of fungus.

Fleming believed the fungus had released a substance that killed off the bacteria. He studied the slide and named the bacteria-killing substance penicillin.

Producing more penicillin proved difficult. It took Australian scientist Howard Florey and British biochemist Ernst Boris Chain almost 10 years to develop a method that created enough of the drug.

But when the antibiotic became available in 1941, tests showed penicillin cured lots of serious bacterial infections within days. Penicillin became the world's first superdrug.

In 1945, after penicillin saved thousands of lives in the second world war, Fleming and his colleagues Florey and Chain were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

True or false?

1. Alexander Fleming was a school teacher.

2. Penicillin cures bacterial infections.

3. Fleming did not win a Nobel Prize.

Microbiology VIPs

Fill in the gaps with the following words:

classified, theory, invention

Until the 20th century, even a small cut could turn septic and kill people.

Many scientists suspected micro-organisms caused disease and infection. But they couldn't prove microscopic life existed until the ____________________ of the microscope.

Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first to see micro-organisms with a microscope in 1676. For this he is called The Father of Microbiology.

In 1847 German biologist Ferdinand Cohn _____________________ bacteria as plants. He then spent years studying the life cycle of bacteria, sharing his discoveries with other scientists.

French scientist Louis Pasteur proved that fermentation, putrefaction, infection and souring are caused by microbes. His experiments between 1854 and 1895 convinced other scientists that the germ ____________________ of disease was correct.

Then, in 1875, German scientist Robert Koch proved particular germs cause particular diseases. Koch showed that the disease anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

In respect of their work, Cohn, Pasteur and Koch all share the title Founder of Bacteriology.

Early penicillin

Find synonyms for the following :

from the time when, create, sick person

Healers in ancient Egypt, India, Greece and China have been treating wounds with mouldy bread, milk, cheese, soybeans and more since 1600BC.

As some moulds produce antibiotic substances these treatments were sometimes successful. But as healers didn't know exactly how these cures worked, they would often use the wrong moulds. And then patients would die.

Drug resistance

Choose the correct alternative:

Many people think that antibiotics cure everything all the time. They take them for all sorts of health problems - even when it's totally unnecessary/required.

The problem is that when bacteria are targeted by an antibiotic over a long time, the bacteria develop a resistance. When this happens, doctors have to try and find another antibiotic that the bacteria are not resistant to.

Unfortunately there are now bacteria that are resistant to few/several antibiotics. These superbugs mean that illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis and tuberculosis can be difficult to treat.

You can help prevent superbugs by taking antibiotics only at unsuitable/appropriate times. Ask your doctor!

fab fact!

Although antibiotics save millions of lives every year, the word 'antibiotic' comes from the Greek 'anti' meaning against and 'bios' meaning life.

fab fact!

Antibiotics don't work against viral illnesses, such as colds or flu. Although many people take antibiotics at these times, they rarely produce the desired results. Worse, taking antibiotics to deal with viruses creates superbugs.

fab fact!

The first antibiotics were produced from living organisms, such as fungi, moulds and bacteria. Today many are wholly or partly synthetic.


Answer the following questions. To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1. Penicillin became easily available in:

a. 1921

b. 1941

c. 1961

2. The Father of Microbiology is:

a. Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming

b. British biochemist Ernst Boris Chain

c. Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek

3. Who proved the germ theory of disease?

a. Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming

b. French scientist Louis Pasteur

c. Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek

4. Who suggested bacteria are plants?

a. German biologist Ferdinand Cohn

b. French scientist Louis Pasteur

c. German scientist Robert Koch

5. Who proved particular germs cause particular diseases?

a. German biologist Ferdinand Cohn

b. French scientist Louis Pasteur

c. German scientist Robert Koch

6. Bacteria that are resistant to several antibiotics are:

a. superdrugs

b. superbugs

c. viruses


Correct alternative: unnecessary, several, appropriate

True or false: 1. F, 2. T, 3. F

Fill in the gaps: invention, classified, theory

Synonyms: since, produce, patient

Quiz: 1. b, 2. c, 3. b, 4. a, 5. c, 6. b