When Alexander Fleming was born, antibiotics did not exist. Minor infections often proved fatal and a quarter of all hospital patients died of gangrene after surgery.
When Fleming enrolled as a medical student at St Mary’s in 1900 he dreamed of becoming a surgeon, but luckily for us, he was given a temporary position in the Inoculation Department, where he remained until his death.
One day in 1922, Fleming was hunched over his bacteria cultures as usual, despite suffering from a nasty cold. A drop of snot landed on his Petri dish, which led to his discovery of the antiseptic properties of mucus, saliva and tears. In September 1928, Alexander Fleming made another discovery that changed the course of medical history, when one of his cultures was contaminated with mould from a lab downstairs, Fleming hit on the healing properties of fungus, and effectively invented penicillin.
Fleming’s assistant Stuart Craddock ate some of this “mould juice” to prove that it was not poisonous, Craddock claimed that it tasted like Stilton, prompting a flurry of sensational headlines about mouldy cheese being a miracle cure for disease.
Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum
St Mary’s Hospital, Praed Street, W2