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Saudi J Biol Sci. 2014 Sep;21(4):289-93. doi: 10.1016/j.sjbs.2013.12.007. Epub 2014 Jan 8.

What if Fleming had not discovered penicillin?

Author information

1
Department of Botany and Microbiology, College of Science, King Saud University, P.O. Box 2455, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia.
2
Department of Botany and Microbiology, College of Science, King Saud University, P.O. Box 2455, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia ; Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.
3
Emergency Medicine Department, Pediatric Emergency Unit, College of Medicine, King Saud University, P.O. Box (56) 2925, Riyadh 11461, Saudi Arabia.
4
College of Dentistry, King Saud University, P.O. Box 60169, Riyadh 11545, Saudi Arabia.

Abstract

What would have happened had Alexander Fleming not discovered penicillin in 1928? Perhaps the obvious answer is that, someone else would have discovered penicillin during 1930s and the Oxford group, would still have purified it sometime in the early 1940s. Here, however, in this counterfactual account of the penicillin story, it is argued that without Fleming, penicillin might still be undiscovered and the antibiotic age would never have dawned. As a result, many of the recent developments in medicine, such as organ transplantation, might have been delayed or, at best, made more hazardous. Penicillin might have come onto the scene a few years later but, had Fleming overlooked the discovery, it seems certain that penicillin would not have saved countless Allied lives, during and after D-Day. Instead of having enjoyed fifty and more years of the antibiotic age, it is argued here, that we would have had to rely upon highly developed sulphonamides, so-called "supasulfas", and other chemically-derived antibacterial drugs. Indeed, it might be the case that, even well into this new millennium, the antibiotic age has yet to dawn, and medicine is still waiting for someone to chance upon penicillin. Here we discuss what might have happened had Fleming not discovered penicillin and come to the conclusion that the medical armoury available today would have been far different and might have relied solely upon highly developed varieties of sulphonamides or similar, synthetic, non-antibiotic antibacterial agents.

KEYWORDS:

Alexander Fleming; Novel antibiotics; Penicillin; Supasulfas

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