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Penicillium chrysogenum is the fungus from which penicillin, the first antibiotic medication, is made. The medical use for antibiotics, as the name suggests, is to cure diseases that are caused by bacteria. The creation of penicillin revolutionized medicine, as it enabled doctors to treat and even eradicate a number of diseases that previously were incurable and sometimes fatal. In fact, bacterial infections were among the leading causes of death in humans at the time of penicillin’s discovery. The development of antibiotic medications was a major medical breakthrough, but over-prescribing as well as improper use of the drugs has contributed to the development of bacterial strains that do not respond as well to treatment.
A scientist named Alexander Fleming is credited with the discovery of the effects of Penicillium chrysogenum on bacteria. He accidentally left several petri dishes containing bacteria out in the open for a few days and then noticed that the mold growing on them appeared to be killing the bacteria. Fleming recognized the potential benefit of this phenomenon and published his results. The discovery was mostly forgotten, however, until World War II, when the prevalence of bacterial infections among soldiers renewed scientific interest in creating antibiotic treatments. Researchers in the United States conducted an exhaustive search and eventually found a strain of Penicillium chrysogenum that could produce penicillin in large enough quantities to be profitable, leading to eventual widespread use of the drug.
In the years before the development of antibiotics, a small skin scrape or cut could become infected with bacteria and then spread to the blood, bones, and other body parts. Eventually, without any way to stop the infection, the infection would lead to permanent disability or death. Other bacterial infections, such as strep throat and bacterial meningitis, which have become relatively minor illnesses, were very serious and often fatal before penicillin was available.
Penicillin and other antibiotics work by affecting the cell walls of bacteria, making it unable to grow and multiply. The medication that is made from Penicillium chrysogenum, however, has become less effective due to the development of bacterial strains that are resistant to treatment with penicillin. Many people in the medical community attribute the development of these resistant strains to improper use of antibiotics. In some cases, physicians may incorrectly prescribe penicillin for the common cold and other viral illnesses, which do not respond to this type of treatment. Other times, people stop taking antibiotics as soon as they feel better rather than finishing the medication, allowing some bacteria to remain and develop immunity to the drug.