The first of the first-generation antibiotics, Penicillium notatum is naturally produced by a mold. It was discovered serendipitously by British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928, and later developed successfully as a powerful therapeutic weapon by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. These three men shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on penicillin. The antibiotic was initially immensely successful in curing previously fatal infections caused by common bacterial pathogens such as streptococcus, staphylococcus and pneumococcus, and in treating common sexually transmitted diseases, notably syphilis and gonorrhea.
Unfortunately, most pathogens became resistant as successive generations of microorganisms included rising proportions that had evolved an enzyme to inactivate penicillin. Also, as penicillin is a complex protein, many who receive it develop allergies that get worse with each subsequent course of treatment. Its efficacy is thereby reduced.
JOHN M. LAST