Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist and Nobel Prize winner, best known for his discovery of penicillin
Alexander Fleming was born in Ayrshire on 6 August 1881, the son of a farmer. He moved to London at the age of 13 and later trained as a doctor. He qualified with distinction in 1906 and began research at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School at the University of London under Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy. In World War One Fleming served in the Army Medical Corps and was mentioned in dispatches. After the war, he returned to St Mary’s.
In 1928, while studying influenza, Fleming noticed that mould had developed accidentally on a set of culture dishes being used to grow the staphylococci germ. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. Fleming experimented further and named the active substance penicillin. It was two other scientists however, Australian Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who developed penicillin further so that it could be produced as a drug. At first supplies of penicillin were very limited, but by the 1940s it was being mass-produced by the American drugs industry.
Fleming wrote numerous papers on bacteriology, immunology and chemotherapy. He was elected professor of the medical school in 1928 and emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of London in 1948. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1943 and knighted in 1944. In 1945 Fleming, Florey and Chain shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Fleming died on 11 March 1955.