(August 6, 1881 – March 11, 1955)

Alexander Fleming’s serendipity earned him a place here. He revolutionized medicine and surgery 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 after summer holidays. He noticed that one of his culture media has been contaminated by fungi. To his amazement, these fungi have killed-off the surrounding bacteria. Suspecting that the fungi produced antibacterial substance, he isolated and re-grew them on a new medium. The result was astounding. This fungal species was later identified as Penicillium notatum. And its active ingredient, which displayed broad spectrum activities against many pathogens, was aptly named penicillin. This accidental discovery prompted extensive research which yielded many antibiotics we use today. It transformed the lives of humans, pets, and livestock. From taming communicable diseases to limiting post-surgical complications, the importance of antibiotics cannot be overemphasized. Diseases like bubonic plague, which decimated millions over the centuries and terrified even the greatest kings, were subdued in the 20th century by antibiotics. Without these panaceas, our life expectancies would have been much lower than they are now. Thus, Fleming’s fortuitous finding is among the most important discoveries ever made in science. Among several honors, he shared the Nobel Prize for medicine with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey in 1945. The 91006 Fleming asteroid was also named after him.


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