In 1928, Alexander Fleming accidentally made one of the most revolutionary findings in medical history – he discovered penicillin. With the growing number of bacteria that have been resisting antibiotics over the last few decades, scientists have decided to return to the first antibiotic to see what was originally so effective in its use. To their surprise, they found that the original mold that was a part of Flemings discovery had never been sequenced. The genomes of that first Penicillium mold could be helpful in understanding how the resistance has evolved since penicillin was first discovered. The original mold had been stored in a freezer since 1945, and when removed, scientists found that it still continued to grow. Once the scientists finished with the genetic sequencing of the original mold, they compared it to two strains of Penicillium used in the US for large scale antibiotic production.
They began looking for how the antibiotic had evolved to determine how it could be changed to better make the antibiotics effective against superbugs that were resistant to the current antibiotics. It takes between five and 10 years for bacteria to begin to be resistant. Originally, Fleming had found it difficult to identify which fungal strain was working to destroy the bacteria, resulting in several Penicillium being discovered. Fleming realized that bacteria was beginning to evolve, so when he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1945, he took the time to warn medical professionals during his acceptance speech. Overuse of antibiotics is expected to result in the death of 10 million people a year by 2050.
If you are interested in reading more about this intriguing discover, check out Scientists Sequence the 92-Year-Old Mold That Produced the First Antibiotic, Penicillin. If you are interested in reading the study, you can read it at Comparative Genomics of Alexander Fleming’s Original Penicillium Isolate (IMI 15378) Reveals Sequence Divergence of Penicillin Synthesis Genes.