Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Fleming’

What If…

The Weeping Angel. A beautiful piece of 19 Century funerary art depicting grief over untimely death.

Go to an old cemetery and walk the rows of tombstones noting how many children died and the year in which they died. It will become evident that prior to 1946-47 there are any number of children under the age of seven-the age at which the immune system has completed its maturation. After 1947, graves of children become very uncommon. Why?


An accidental discovery by Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Fleming on September 28, 1928, penicillin was difficult to make in any appreciable quantity and was only available for allied soldiers during World War II. Excreted unchanged in the urine, penicillin was purified from the urine of its recipients and reused-so miraculous and limited was its availability.

The limited production and availability changed immediately after the war ended in 1945. By 1947, penicillin was widely available, and literally overnight such dread diseases as scarlet fever, pneumonia, puerperal sepsis, gonorrhea, staphylococcal sepsis, meningococcal meningitis. and syphilis which was the AIDS of its day were scourges no more.

Fleming discovered penicillin quite by accident when he returned from summer vacation to find the mold Penicillium notatum growing in a petri dish inoculated with bacteria. There was a zone between the mold and the bacterial colonies where no bacteria grew. Curious as to why, Fleming’s investigations would lead him to discover the compound made by the mold and secreted, which he would later name Penicillin.

It was an accident, an example of opportunity meeting with preparation, or as Louis Pasteur would say-‘chance favoring the prepared mind.’

There is no way to predict which quarter discoveries will come from. Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, but had no way of mass-marketing it until the son of runaway slaves, African-American Louis Howard Latimer invented the technique for mass-producing the carbon filaments used in the bulbs. He was the only Black man in the exclusive club of inventors called the Edison Pioneers.

Today, 1/3 of my children’s generation is missing. Aborted. When I suggest that we are losing Flemings and Latimers, I am usually met with the snark that we are also losing more criminals. That’s all the other side has, a bleak assessment of humanity. It’s an assessment so bleak that it makes these folks dismiss the idea that we are literally killing our future Flemings, Edisons, Latimers and Pasteurs. It’s not just science and medicine. Artists, musicians, poets, playwrights, scholars are never going to gift us with their blessings. It makes one wonder.

What if…

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