(August 6, 1881 – March 11, 1955)

Alexander Fleming’s serendipity earned him a spot here. He revolutionized medicine with his chance-discovery. Since antiquity, humans have sought antimicrobials. Until the 20th century, diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia were regarded as death sentences. But on September 3, 1928, our long and painful battles against infectious diseases took a dramatic turn. On that day, Fleming returned to his laboratory following his summer vacation. He observed that one of his culture media has been contaminated by fungi. To his amazement, these fungi have killed-off the surrounding bacteria. Suspecting that those fungi produced antibacterial substance, he isolated and re-grew them on a new medium. The result was astounding. The fungal species was later identified as Penicillium notatum. Befittingly, its active ingredient, which displayed broad spectrum activities against many pathogens, was aptly named penicillin. This accidental discovery would instigate extensive research that yielded various antibiotics we use today. It transformed the lives of humans, pets, and livestock. From stifling infections to curtailing post-surgical complications, the importance of antibiotics cannot be overemphasized. Diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia and bubonic plague, which exterminated millions over the centuries and terrified even the greatest kings, were subdued in the 20th century by antibiotics. Without these panaceas, our respective life expectancies would have been much lower than they currently are. Thus, Alexander Fleming’s fortuitous finding ranks among the most important discoveries. Among various honors, he shared the medicine/physiology Nobel Prize with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey in 1945. The 91006 Fleming asteroid is also dedicated to his memory.

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