Biography of Alexander Fleming


Table of Contents

Full Name: Alexander Fleming
Known For: The discovery of penicillin and the discovery of lysozyme
Born: August 6, 1881, Lochfield, Ayrshire, Scotland.
Parent’s Names: Hugh and Grace Fleming
Died: March 11, 1955 in London, England
Education: MBBS degree, St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School
Key Accomplishments: Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (1945)
Spouses’ Names: Sarah Marion McElroy (1915 – 1949), a nurse, and Dr. Amalia Koutsouri-Voureka (1953 – 1955), a medical practitioner
Children’s Names: Robert (with Sarah) who was also a medical doctor

It was in 1928 that Alexander Fleming (August 6 1881 – March 11 1955) discovered penicillin, an antibiotic within Saint Mary’s Hospital in London. Penicillin’s discovery changed the way we treat the bacterial causes of illness, allowing doctors across the globe to fight previously fatal and debilitating ailments by using a variety of antibiotics.

Early Years

Alexander Fleming was born in Lochfield in Ayrshire in Scotland on the 6th of August 1881. It was his third child of the family that his father had from his second marriage. His parents were Hugh as well as Grace Fleming. They both were farmer and they had four children. Hugh Fleming also had four children from his first marriage. Alexander was the half brother of four.


Alexander Fleming attended both the Louden Moor and Darvel Schools. He also went to Kilmarnock Academy. After his move to London He was a student at his Regent Street Polytechnic school followed by St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School.

In St. Mary’s he earned an MBBS (Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae) degree in the year 1906. The degree is comparable to obtaining an M.D. qualification from the United States.


After graduating, Fleming took a job as researcher in bacteriology under the direction from Almroth W Wright, an expert in immunology. In this period as well, he earned his bacteriology degree in 1908.

Career and Research

While studying the field of bacteriology, Fleming discovered that even when people were suffering from bacterial infections, their immune systems was usually able to fight off infections. He was very intrigued by these findings.


In the wake of World War I, Fleming joined the army and was a part of the Royal Army Medical Corps rising to the rank of captain. In this position, he began to display the brilliance and innovation was to become his trademark.

While within the Army Medical Corps, he discovered that the antiseptic drugs employed to combat infections in the most severe wounds actually caused harm and could lead to the deaths of soldiers. The agents were affecting the body’s natural capability to fight infections.


The mentor of Fleming’s, Almroth Wright, had earlier believed that sterile saltwater could be a better option for treating these wounds that are deep. Wright and Fleming were of the opinion that antiseptics hindered from healing and an sterile solution of saline was the ideal alternative. Based on certain estimates it took a considerable amount of time for the procedure to become popular, which led to further deaths.

The Discovery of Lysozyme

In the aftermath of the war Fleming carried on his studies. A few days later, when he was suffering from an illness, some of his nasal mucus dissolved into a bacterial strain. As time passed, he noticed that the mucus seemed to block the growth of bacterial.


The researcher continued his research and found something in his mucus which stopped bacteria from expanding. The substance was referred to as Lysozyme. He was eventually successful in obtaining a larger amount from the enzyme. He was thrilled about its ability to inhibit bacteria however, he realized that it wasn’t effective in a variety of bacteria.

The Discovery of Penicillin

The year was 1928 and Fleming continued to experiment in St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Many have said that Fleming as not being meticulous in regards to things like maintaining the laboratory clean. After coming to the home from a holiday He noticed that a sort of mold was growing in a culture that was contaminated. The culture that was contaminated contained staphylococcus bacteria. Fleming observed that the mold seemed to be hindering the growth of the bacteria. Unintentionally, Fleming had stumbled upon penicillin, an antibiotic discovery that could transform the way that antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.


How Penicillin Works

Penicillin acts by interfering with the cell walls of bacteria, eventually leading them to explode or be lysed. The cells of bacteria are filled with substances known as peptidoglycans. Peptidoglycans strengthen bacteria and keep out foreign objects from infiltrating. Penicillin disrupts peptidoglycans inside the cell’s wall, allowing water to enter and eventually cause cells to be lysed (burst). Peptidoglycans are present only in bacteria, and not humans. Penicillin is a drug that interferes with bacteria’s cells, but not human cells.

in 1945 Fleming together with Ernst Chain and Howard Florey received with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on penicillin. Chain and Florey were key in examining the efficacy of penicillin following Fleming’s discovery.

Proving that Antiseptics Kill rather than Cure

In 1914, World War 1 broke out and Fleming at the age of 33 joined the armyand became a captain of the Royal Army Medical Corps working in field hospitals across France.

In a string of astounding studies, he discovered the fact that antiseptics employed to treat wounds and stop infection actually killed more soldiers than infections!

The antiseptics used, including boric acid, carbolic acid and hydrogen peroxide did not kill bacteria that were deep in wounds. even more than that, they were actually decreasing the resistance of soldiers to infection by killing white blood cells.

Fleming proved that antiseptics are only effective in treating superficial wounds. However, they are dangerous when applied to deeper wounds.

The late Almroth Wright was of the opinion that a saline solution , i.e. salt water, should be used to cleanse wounds that were deep, since this does not affect the body’s defense mechanisms and actually stimulated white cell. Fleming demonstrated this on the field.

Wright and Fleming published their findings however, the majority of army doctors refused to alter their methods, resulting in numerous preventable deaths.

Death and Legacy

In the course of time, certain breakthroughs dramatically alter the course of a specific discipline. The discovery of penicillin by Fleming was one of these discoveries. It’s difficult to quantify the magnitude of his contribution in the millions of lives that were saved or improved through antibiotics.

Fleming earned a few high-profile awards during his time. He was presented with his John Scott Legacy Medal in 1944, and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945, and the Albert Medal in 1946. His knighthood was conferred by the King George VI in 1944. He was an active participant in the Pontifical Academy of Science and was conferred an honorary Hunterian Professorship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Fleming passed away in London at the age of 73 from an attack on the heart.

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