Breaking the mould

November 22, 2002

John C. Waller should check his facts before trying to debunk Alexander Fleming. In "Dimming the light of reflected glory" (Features, THES , November 15), he states: "But Fleming's notebooks and published papers make it clear that soon after he began his penicillin research, he abandoned it as clinically unpromising."

The opposite is true. Fleming's notebooks show that he continued to work with penicillin into the late 1930s. The fact that he tested penicillin, and other novel mould extracts, against a wide range of pathogens clearly shows that he regarded it as being, what would be termed later, an antibiotic.

The notebooks also show that he was the first person to make a systematic search for novel antibiotics.

These facts can be found in my paper "Fleming's unfinished" published in the current edition of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine .

Milton Wainwright
Department of molecular biology and biotechnology
University of Sheffield

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