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Alexander Fleming Washes His Petri Dish by Jeff Provine

Author says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's excellent blog This Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

By September 28th 1928,

Please click the icon to follow us on Twitter.having just returned from a holiday, Scottish Professor of Bacteriology Alexander Fleming came back to his lab in St. Mary's Hospital, London, where he had been studying Staphylococcus. One of his stacked petri dishes had been left open, and blue-green mold had begun to grow inside.

Around the mold, the bacteria had been diminished, as if growth had not only been inhibited, but the bacteria destroyed.

"A world where antibiotics came in later would look very different to ours...the sexual revolution might have been delayed, among other things. " - reader's comments"That's funny," Fleming said, but went about his business washing the contaminant and turning back to the research at hand.

Life in the world would go on, and Fleming would become somewhat famous for his work against antisceptics in deep-tissue surgery. Surgeries and doctor's offices continued to be places of potential hazard. Lessons learned from the Second World War taught that sterilization and natural immunity were the best methods for defense, but infection was nearly a death certificate itself. Pneumonia, scarlet fever, and diptheria ran through populations periodically, minor plagues that even advanced societies had to suffer through.

"But antibiotics might not have come that much later. So-called "sulfa" drugs (hinted at in this scenario) were successfully used in the 1930s; penicillin was seen as superior because it had fewer side effects, but the sulfa compounds (and no, that's not a misspelling) worked. If penicillin hadn't been discovered, such medicines might have been used longer and perhaps perfected so as to eliminate or at least reduce their side effects (or perhaps they might have been taken with other medications designed to deal with those effects). For that matter, in the Soviet Union, whose medical researchers were cut off for years from contact with their Western counterparts, successful antibiotic treatments were developed using "phages," bacteria which eat other bacteria. So even without penicillin, alternatives might have existed which would have forestalled " - reader's commentsIn 2000, as something of a miraculous discovery, doctors at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in San Jose ,Costa Rica, published the papers of Dr. Clodomiro Picado Twight. Dr. Picado was internationally known for his research with snake venom and cures, but it seemed that he had discovered a practical antibiotic as early as 1927. He had observed the fungus Penicillium inhibiting the growth of streptococci and staphylococci (which Fleming had seen, but not noticed). He had submitted a paper to the Paris Academy of Sciences, but it had not made an impression.

"Great point. Engineered phages might be slow in coming with the principles of DNA still waiting to be discovered as well as computing necessary to do it, but this TL would have a huge head start on where we are. Otherwise, it'd be dealing with hefty side effects, which we do anyway. I'd like to see a TL where cancer is cured by something other than near-lethal radiation. " - author's responseAs the papers were published anew, commentary was written on the use of the fungus in folk medicine since the Middle Ages. Several European researchers had noticed its effects, even Tyndall in 1875 and Lister in 1871, but neither embraced the potential. Modern advancements in biochemistry had looked into the possibilities of antibiotics, finding a few such as the sulfomides and the quinolones that each severe side effects, but this natural product seemed like a place for renewed research. As early tests began to show great promise, pharmaceutical companies raced to patent a Wonder Drug.

The drug Penicillin would be branded in 2010 after isolation, synthesis, and FDA approval. While immunity among bacteria has been detected from under-use, the chemical structure for Penicillin enables easy modification for renewed effectiveness. Mass production began quickly, opening up huge markets for antibiotics in every hospital, office, and home in the world. First and third world death rates are expected to plummet alike.

Conversely, of course, if birth rates do not decrease like death rates, it can be expected that world population may reach as much as three and a half billion by 2025. With the Earth supporting such a surge of new life, pollution and social ills are expected to grow exponentially.

Author says in reality Dr. Fleming took great interest in the petri dish that had caused him to utter the famous words, "That's funny!" He tested the mold for a decade before contacting chemists Ernst Chain and Howard Florey into isolating and concentrating the chemical he had dubbed "penicillin" after calling it "mould juice" for some months. The war effort of World War 2 pushed for maximized production of penicillin, enough to treat every soldier during the D-Day invasion. For their efforts, Fleming and Florey would receive knighthoods in 1944, and Fleming, Florey, and Chain would share the 1945 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the Today in Alternate History web site.

Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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