6th August 1881. Moulds-Good and Bad.

Yeasts and Moulds part of the Fungi Kingdom are all around us, having both beneficial and potential lethal effects.

One of the former resulted from an accidental discovery by Sir Alexander Fleming born Today in 1881, of what he called penicillin and derived from the fungus of the Genus Penicillium.

His notice in 1928 of a mould that had strayed onto a culture he was using to grow the Staphylococci germ-cause of boils and pneumonia- was that the bacteria surrounding the mould was dying through its inability to make new cell walls.(1) 

By chance of the thousands of moulds and bacteria the right mould was in the right place at the right time.

The first Penicillin was isolated from the mould Penicillium notatum, (now chrysogenum), a year later to create the age of antibiotics, but only against bacterial not viral or fungal infection.

Not all moulds are conducive to human health for Claviceps purpurea causes the microtoxin fungal growth, Ergot causing Ergotism particularly in damp rye growing areas. The resultant convulsions in a superstitious age being diagnosed as possession by evil spirits and witchcraft.(2)

In the Middle Ages it was called St. Anthony’s Fire, from the inflammation, and that a pilgrimage to the Saint’s tomb could result in its cure.

Most of the moulds with which we come in contact are through food; beneficial as with blue cheeses such as Stilton, where flavour is enhanced by injecting with Penicillium roqueforti. However with soft cheeses infection with listeria and salmonella bacteria can be fatal.

Then there are cases where fatal consequences have resulted from consumption of mouldy peanuts from the mycotoxin Aspergillus flavin.

Those thrifty types who remove the mould from other products should be aware that like an iceberg, mould runs deep so whilst in scraping up the mould from bread we might be all right, and with jam, the acids keep bacteria at bay, beware of rotten apples and the Patulin toxins!

Mouldy bread

Bread can have a variety of different coloured moulds, black being the most dangerous.

Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945.

(1) It was left to others to isolate and purify penicillin, demonstrating that it had therapeutic properties and showing that it could be safely administered by mouth, injection or as a powder.

Fleming found penicillin was strongly antagonistic to many pathogenic microbes even when diluted a million times. However it was not used on humans until February 1941.

(2) The drug Ergotamine is used in the treatment of migraine as it constricts blood vessels.



bbc mag/news. 22.10.2014.

bbc.co.uk/historical- figures/fleming.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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