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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1928, the development of effective antibiotic drugs and the evolution of resistant bacteria.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. It is said he noticed some blue-green penicillium mould on an uncovered petri dish at his hospital laboratory, and that this mould had inhibited bacterial growth around it. After further work, Fleming filtered a broth of the mould and called that penicillin, hoping it would be useful as a disinfectant. Howard Florey and Ernst Chain later shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine with Fleming, for their role in developing a way of mass-producing the life-saving drug. Evolutionary theory predicted the risk of resistance from the start and, almost from the beginning of this 'golden age' of antibacterials, scientists have been looking for ways to extend the lifespan of antibiotics.


Laura Piddock
Professor of Microbiology at the University of Birmingham

Christoph Tang
Professor of Cellular Pathology and Professorial Fellow at Exeter College at the University of Oxford


Steve Jones
Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College, London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

47 minutes

Last on

Thu 9 Jun 2016 21:30


Laura Piddock at the University of Birmingham

Christoph Tang at the University of Oxford

Steve Jones at University College London

Alexander Fleming – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Alexander Fleming – ODNB podcast

Penicillin – Wikipedia

‘What if Fleming had not discovered penicillin?’ - Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences

Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin - Advances in Applied Microbiology

‘Origins and Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance’ – Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews

‘Antibiotic Resistance within Staphylococcus Aureus’ - MicrobeWiki

‘Antibiotic Resistance Threats Report and Foodborne Germs’ – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

‘New Report Tracks Rise of Antibiotic Resistance in Humans and Livestock’ – Modern Farmer



Kevin Brown, Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution (The History Press, 2005)

Sally Davies, Jonathan Grant and Mike Catchpole, The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat (Penguin, 2013)

Giulia Enders, Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ (Scribe Publications, 2015)

Eric Lax, The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat: The Remarkable True Story of the Penicillin Miracle (Abacus, 2005)

Gwyn Macfarlane, Howard Florey: The Making of a Great Scientist (Oxford University Press, 1979)

Gwyn Macfarlane, Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth (Harvard University Press, 1984)

Emily Mayhew, Wounded: The Long Journey Home From the Great War (Vintage, 2014)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Laura Piddock
Interviewed Guest Christoph Tang
Interviewed Guest Steve Jones
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 9 Jun 2016 09:00
  • Thu 9 Jun 2016 21:30

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