|Alexander Fleming pharmacology|
A blue-green mold accidentally contaminated Alexander Fleming’s petri dish in which he was growing Staphylococcus bacteria. Strangely, he noticed a halo around the mold in which the bacteria did not grow and studied the matter further, finding that the mold was a Penicillium and that a filtrate of its broth, which he called penicillin, inhibited the growth and broke down the cells of bacteria.
Fleming thought that penicillin might make a good antiseptic but would not survive in the human body long enough to kill pathogenic bacteria. Trials of penicillin to treat humans failed because of the difficulty of purifying it and producing it in sufficient quantities. In 1942, Merk & Co. in the U.S. produced only enough penicillin to treat ten patients. But larger supplies were needed for the war effort. A world-wide search was made for the best source. Fermentation of corn steep liquor and a moldy cantaloupe found in Peoria helped the U.S. produce millions of doses in time for the invasion of Normandy in the spring of 1944.
Chains of Penicillium’s conidia resemble a broom. A new broom sweeps corners clean. A painter sweeps his brush across the canvas to represent our dirty world. He paints a portrait of a scientist; he paints an allegory of accidental discovery. An old broom sits in the corner of the view, symbolizing our struggle to live in the natural world.