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Sir Alexander Fleming M.B., B.S.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1945
Co-Nobelists: Ernst B. Chain, Sir Howard Florey

Physician - Bacteriologist, Immunologist. While researching Influenza virus, made ground breaking discovery: penicillin, by not neglecting chance observation - mould contaminating culture plate. WWI caused interest in Antiseptics. WWII, production cost was immaterial. Destiny.

Lone worker gets idea; details developed by team, but prime idea is due to enterprise, thought, perception of an individual.

Quotations

1. "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 enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual".

2. Penicillin started as a chance observation. My only merit is that I did not neglect the observation and that I pursued the subject as a bacteriologist. My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.

3. Penicillin was not the first antibiotic I happened to discover. In 1922, I described lysozyme - a powerful antibacterial ferment which had a most extraordinary lytic effect on some bacteria.

4. Then the phenomenal success of penicillin has led to an intensive research into antibacterial products produced by moulds and other lowly members of the vegetable kingdom.

5. "In 1928 an accidental contamination of a culture plate by a mould set me off on another track. I was working on a subject having no relation to moulds or antiseptics and if I had been a member of a team engaged on this subject it is likely that I would have had to neglect the accidental happening and work for the team with the result that penicillin would not then have been described and I would not be here today as a Nobel Laureate. But, fortunately for myself - and may be for the world - I was situated so that I could leave my previous line of research work and follow the track which fate had indicated for me."

6. I studied it as far as I could as a bacteriologist. I had a clue that here was something good but I could not possibly know how good it was and I had not the team, especially the chemical team, necessary to concentrate and stabilise the penicillin.

7. It was only some 10 years after I discovered Penicillin that my co-Nobelists Dr. Chain and Sir Howard Florey, took up the chemical investigation. They obtained my strain of Penicillium notatum and succeeded in concentrating penicillin with the result that now we have concentrated penicillin which is active beyond the wildest dreams I could possibly have had in those early days.

8. Their [my co-Nobelists Dr. Chain and Sir Howard Florey] results were first published in 1940 in the midst of a great war when ordinary economics are in abeyance and when production can go on regardless of cost. I had the opportunity of seeing in America some of the large penicillin factories To me it was of especial interest to see how a simple observation made in a hospital bacteriological laboratory in London had eventually developed into a large industry and how what everyone at one time thought was merely one of my toys had by purification become the nearest approach to the ideal substance for curing many of our common infections.

9. It seems likely that this fact that bacterial antagonisms were so common and well-known hindered rather than helped the initiation of the study of antibiotics as we know it today.

10. "Sometimes one finds what one is not looking for."

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Fleming
Photo: Imperial War Museums/Wikipedia Commons.

Name: Sir Alexander Fleming
Birth: 6 August 1881, Lochfield, Scotland
Death: 11 March 1955, London, United Kingdom
Affiliation at the time of the award: London University, London, United Kingdom
Prize motivation: "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases"
Field: anti-bacterial agents, bacteriology, biochemistry
Prize share: 1/3
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