Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist in London, discovered penicillin by mistake when he was trying to study staphylococci bacteria in 1928. He was running experiments with the bacteria in his laboratory at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, and set a laboratory dish containing the bacteria near an open window. Upon returning to the experiment, he found that some mold blown in through the open window onto the dish, contaminating the bacteria. Instead of throwing away his spoiled experiment, Fleming looked closely at it under his microscope. Surprisingly, he saw not only the mold growing on the staphylococci bacteria, but a clear zone around the mold. The Penicillium mold, the precursor to penicillin, was dissolving the deadly staphylococci bacteria.
If you wanted to recreate Fleming’s process, here’s how you can make it at home:
Slice of bread or citrus peel750ml Erlenmeyer flaskMedia (see Step 4)1000ml (1 L) graduated cylinder Several clean milk bottles
Prepare a penicillium culture. Expose a slice of bread or a citrus peel to a 70 degree Fahrenheit environment. A blue-green mold should develop.
Sterilize the equipment. Place the flask in the oven at 315 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, or sterilize in a pressure cooker for at least 15 minutes. Wash the milk bottles.
Fill the Erlenmeyer flask. Cut the bread or citrus peel into small pieces and fill the flask. Allow to incubate in the dark at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 days. After this incubation period, the flask can be stored in the refrigerator for no more than 10-14 days.
Prepare the media. Dissolve the following ingredients, in the order listed, into 500ml of cold tap water: 44.0 grams Lactose Monohydrate, 25.0 grams cornstarch, 3.0 grams sodium nitrate, 0.25 grams magnesium sulfate, 0.50 grams potassium phosphate mono, 2.75 grams glucose monohydrate, 0.044 grams zinc sulfate, 0.044 grams manganese sulfate. Then add enough cold tap water to make one liter. Use hydrochloric acid to adjust the pH to between 5.0 and 5.5.
Fill the bottles with media. Fill the milk bottles with this media. Use only enough so that when the bottle is placed in its side, the media does not reach the plug.
Add the penicillin spores. First sterilize the bottles of media in a pressure cooker or in the stove, as you did the Erlenmeyer flask. When they have cooled, add approximately one tablespoon of the spores from the bread or citrus peel.
Incubate the bottles. Allow the bottles to rest undisturbed on their sides at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 days. If the culture has worked to produce penicillin, it will be in the liquid portion of the media following this incubation period. Finally, filter the media and refrigerate immediately. If you must use it, although this should be avoided, use as soon as possible.
Penicillin is a mould, that when taken in a powder form can eliminate bacteria near it. Pumping air into large vats of corn steep liquor which is a wet milling process by-product increases the rate at which the mold surfaces. You can actually make penicillin yourself though it is a bit difficult.
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