history
29120 Penicillin: Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of the first antibiotic

In all likelihood, you’ve probably heard of Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), the Scottish physician, pharmacologist and medical microbiologist. Made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1943, knighted in 1944 and awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945, Fleming made one of the most significant accidental discoveries in the history of biology: the discovery of a substance called penicillin.

By isolating, naming and concentrating this antibacterial substance secreted by a Penicillium mould, Fleming effectively discovered the first modern antibiotic and enabled the creation of many subsequent antibiotics which are used to cure infections caused by bacteria: infections which were untreatable (and potentially fatal) prior to this. In this manner, medical science was utterly transformed by Fleming’s accidental breakthrough.

Following his death in 1955 his fame continues: 1999, he was named in Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century and he was voted the third ‘greatest Scot’ by the Scottish television channel, STV, only behind Robert Burns and William Wallace.

Of course, the fair attribution of these ‘breakthrough’ moments in science is never as straightforward as it seems – just think of the case of Rosalind Franklin who, for reasons which are still under debate, was not awarded the Nobel Prize for her work with Watson and Crick on discovering the structure of DNA – and Alexander Fleming himself was keen to highlight other scientists, such as Howard Florey and Ernst Chain who took the next steps from his discovery and transformed his petri-dish substance, ‘penicillin’ into actual drugs which were mass produced and which could be used to treat and cure bacterial infections.

But, you might be wondering, how did this accidental discovery take place, and how did that turn into the antibiotics which modern medicine relies on? Read on to find out!

The Discovery

In 1927, Alexander Fleming was studying the properties of the bacteria staphylococci whilst working at his laboratory in Paddington, London. Well-known and respected within the research community of the time for his earlier work, including the discovery of the enzyme lysozyme, he also had a reputation for untidiness as he tended to leave his laboratory in a mess. True to form, before going on holiday with his family in August 1928, he left the colonies of staphylococci stacked in a pile of petri dishes in the corner of his laboratory.

After returning from holiday in September, he noticed that one bacterial culture was contaminated with a fungus which had grown into a fungal colony, and that the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal. Based on this, Fleming determined that the fungus must be producing a substance which was slowing down the growth of the bacteria. After growing this mould in a pure culture, he found that it produced a substance which killed a number of pathogenic bacteria – a substance which he originally called ‘mould juice’ and then named ‘penicillin’, in 1929, after the fungus on the petri dish, Penicillium notatum (Penicillium chrysogenum).

During the next 12 years, Fleming grew, studied and distributed the original mold and found that the substance had clear antibacterial effects on many organisms. In particular, it affected gram-positive bacteria (bacteria which have very thick walls made of peptidoglycan and show up positive in the Gram stain test) which cause conditions such as scarlet fever, pneumonia, meningitis and diphtheria. In addition, penicillin also affects Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the infection gonorrhoea, even though this bacterium is gram-negative.

The Consequences

Although Fleming published his discovery in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in 1929, it received little attention at the time. After continuing his investigations into the 1930s, Fleming found the Penicillium mould to be difficult to cultivate and that it was even more difficult to isolate the antibiotic agent.

Fleming also concluded that, due to the slow speed of its effects, penicillin could not be overly significant as a substance used to treat infections, especially as he believed that it would also not last long enough in the human body to effectively kill the bacteria causing these infections. With his clinical trials in the 1930s mainly producing inconclusive results, Fleming largely abandoned his work on penicillin.

Thankfully for us today, his work was picked up by a large team of scientists both in the UK and abroad, including Howard Florey, Norman Heatley and Ernst Boris Chain at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, who took up research to isolate and mass-produce penicillin, with funding provided by both the British and US governments. The Oxford biochemical research team developed a method of purifying penicillin to its effective first stable form in 1940, with several clinical trials following which were hugely successful and which resulted in the team developing methods for mass production and mass distribution by 1945.

Across the pond, between 1941 and 1943, a team at the USDA Northern Regional Research Laboratory (NRRL) in Peoria, Illinois, United States, managed to isolate higher-yielding strains of the Penicillium fungus and also developed methods for industrialised penicillin production. As a consequence, survivors of the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston in December 1942 were the first burn patients who were successfully treated with penicillin. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, mass production of the antibiotic began, and, by D-Day in 1944, enough penicillin had been produced to treat all of the wounded in the Allied forces.

Impact Today and Wider Implications

As previously noted, Fleming himself was modest about his contribution to the development of penicillin, calling his fame ‘the Fleming Myth’ and attributing the success to Foley and Chain for their work in creating penicillin drugs. That said, as the famous cell biologist, Sir Henry Harris said in 1998, “Without Fleming, no Chain; without Chain, no Florey; without Florey, no Heatley; without Heatley, no penicillin.” Fleming’s discovery by chance and subsequent isolation of penicillin in September 1928 can truly be said to mark the start of modern antibiotics.

Finally, considering Fleming’s discovery can also allow us to reflect upon one of the most significant issues facing medicine in 2019: bacterial resistance to antibiotics. It should be noted that during Fleming’s research he found that bacteria would develop antibiotic resistance if too little penicillin was used in treatment or when it was used for too short a period. As early as 1940, Chain and Edward Abraham noted the first example of antibiotic resistance to penicillin, an E. coli strain that produced the penicillinase enzyme: an enzyme capable of breaking down penicillin and thus completely negating its antibacterial effect.
Fleming himself was outspoken on the issue and cautioned that penicillin should not be used unless there was a properly diagnosed reason, and that it should never be used for too short a period, or in too small quantities, as these are conditions in which bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. In the modern world, the number of bacteria resistant to penicillin is increasing, and, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people in the US per year fall ill due to an antibiotic resistant infection.
As Fleming himself warned, “the microbes are educated to resist penicillin and a host of penicillin-fast organisms is bred out … In such cases the thoughtless person playing with penicillin is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.”

That said, despite the risks posed by resistance today, penicillin has saved, and is still saving the lives of millions of people around the world. Research into antibiotic resistance continues today and scientists are working to develop more effective strains of penicillin-based and other antibiotics. By studying both the causes and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, modern scientists can tackle the problem and keep one step ahead of these pathogenic bacteria.

Categories: Articles Tags: , , 29099 A Brief Exploration Of Business: Past, Present And Future

The study of business, or our general understanding of business and its role in society, is sometimes confused and mistakenly made directly synonymous with more specific job professions within finance, consulting or any other field you may be familiar with. In fact, we should consider business in its broader sense and appreciate this breadth and all its comprising industries. From thereon, it is much easier to go into depth about what constitutes business, how it works, why it works, and where it is actually heading. Of course, specific business industries rightfully deserve their own detailed analyses but we often underestimate larger characteristics and trends that transcend industries as well as geographical locations. So let’s have a look at business, from a past, present and future perspective.

Back to Basics

Business, in simple terms, is when a person or organisation profits by providing goods and/or services in exchange for money – engaged in commercial, industrial or professional activities. Pretty straight forward, right? Well, because this definition is so broad it is clear to see that it encompasses many different forms and types of business. It is also important to note that business structures vary, with the four primary ones being sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations and limited liability companies. These distinctions are crucial, not just in terms of defining business goals and performance, but also for legal and tax purposes. A sole proprietorship is a business that is owned and operated by a single person and so there is no legal separation between the business and the individual. This also means that the business owner is liable him- or herself for profits and losses. A partnership is similar to that of a sole proprietorship, but this includes operations amongst two or more owners. Generally, the benefit of that is that more resources can be shared and liabilities are spread across more owners. A corporation is when a group of people act together as a single entity. Most commonly, owners of a corporation are shareholders of that company. Incorporating a business in this way means that owners are not personally liable for financial or business obligations, but corporations still tend to have unfavourable taxation rules. As such, corporations may choose to become limited liability companies (LLC): a private company whose owners are legally responsible for its debts only to the extent of the amount of capital they invested. While all of this may seem like crossing the border into dry legal jargon, it is important to be able to make distinctions between businesses as it helps to understand what business actually constitutes. Perhaps more interestingly, it is worth looking at where business stems from and whether it has changed at all throughout its existence in its purest form.

The History

Business as we know it can be tracked back 3,000 years to India and China where companies – with structures resembling sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations – began entering into contracts and owning property… essentially setting up the basic frameworks of business that we use today. From 1500 AD we see the first few government-backed companies, like the Dutch East India Company and British East India Company, taking on global business challenges and exchanging goods far away from home. After the Industrial Revolution in 1790 business began to change every 50 years or so, shaped by new inventions, trade and changing consumer habits. When infrastructure in many parts of the world began to evolve and improve, transportation costs were lowered and the business world saw an exponential increase in global trade – today it is unimaginable that a business would have to be constrained solely within the borders of a single country. Eventually, business management took off as a career for people to pursue and throughout the 1900s the business potentials began to appear endless. That being said, business has not always been smooth sailing throughout history. The Great Depression in the 1930s and the financial crisis of the 1970s are just some examples of global economic set-backs that slowed down the progress of business. Even so, these set-backs shaped the way people thought about business, its risks but also its potential. Clearly, businesses have played a vital role in human history and in society, and it is undeniably going to continue to do so in the future. The question remains, however, what it is that we can actually expect in the future?

The Future?

I would argue that there are two primary factors that will shape business in the future – in fact, they have started to do so already. What we can expect, therefore, is that they will continue to play a much bigger role worldwide. Firstly, we need to consider the impact of digital transformation. This sounds like a rather big word and maybe it might appear to lack any real meaning, but it is perhaps the best way to capture the role of technology in business and society. Digital transformation essentially refers to the novel use of digital technology to solve traditional business problems. These digital technologies enable new types of innovation and creativity, rather than simply supporting traditional methods. Think artificial intelligence, e-commerce, fintech, entirely new business models… the list goes on. You have probably already experienced the digital transformation without even knowing it, for instance when you purchase clothes online and your package is delivered within a day or two. This is groundbreaking stuff and it is only the beginning. Businesses are constantly researching and looking into new ways of operating, interacting with customers and driving innovation.

And Finally…

Another major trend in the business world is the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR). Corporate social responsibility is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. This is a wider response to growing concern and knowledge about the role of businesses in society. They are sometimes very big actors, and as such ought to be held accountable for their actions – whether good or bad. CSR can mean anything from the impact that a business is having economically, socially, politically or environmentally. In other words, it is when a business operates in a way that enhances society and the environment, instead of having negative effects on them. There is an increasing number of regulations regarding CSR, but some CSR policies are brought forward by the companies themselves. Examples of CSR may include a clothing company committing to not use child labour in any part of its supply chain, or any company vowing to source its raw materials only from ethical sources. Take Starbucks, for example. This coffee giant has always demonstrated a keen commitment to corporate social responsibility, community and well-being. It has ensured that 99% of its coffee beans are ethically sourced, it is vital player in environmental consciousness particularly in its building of stores, and has encouraged its employees to partake in community service. CSR is a growing trend and companies nowadays will have a hard time avoiding it due to an increase in consumer awareness and demand for societal and environmental accountability. There are so many possible business trends that may surface within the next 5, 10 and 100 years – some may even be impossible to conceive of now. But that is the wonderful nature of business innovation and creativity. Can you think of possible factors that might dramatically change the world of business anytime soon?

Categories: Articles Tags: , , 26542 Seven Wonders of the World: Seven Places to Study History Across the Globe

There are many ways in which you can study history across the globe as an undergraduate. One is to move abroad to study your undergraduate degree. Another, perhaps less daunting, option is to take a year abroad. Alternatively, you could study history globally in another way by studying at a university with a diverse range of specialist departments. There are many factors that should be considered when choosing where to study, and these can appear all the more intimidating when looking abroad. Choosing the right university is key; if you choose the right one all of the obvious fears of studying abroad are immediately countered and overtaken by the reality of fully-embracing a new culture – which is arguably what the study of history is all about!

The great strength of studying history at Cambridge (besides the course), for me has been the town itself. Cambridge town is very small, this allows you to get to grips with your surroundings and settle in as quickly as possible. Living in Cambridge you are surrounded by history, and beautiful architecture. While after a month or so, this is easy to take for granted, the beauty of your surroundings come into their own when you’re having a difficult work-day (which happens for everyone), the buildings around you provide an instant reminder of the reasons why you are studying at such an intellectually rigorous institution.

In this author’s humble opinion, the major selling point of Columbia is its location. Situated in the Morningside Heights neighbourhood of Manhattan, Columbia University places you at the centre of New York’s cultural scene. Guaranteed 4-year housing removes a large portion of the stress involved with finding housing in New York. The cultural scene of New York endows Columbia with a unique diversity, a diversity that gave birth to the first gay rights advocacy group on any college campus, for example.

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest institute of higher education in the US. This immediately endows the institution with a heritage of obvious interest to any historian. While they could be considered superficial, the dining halls at Harvard are a major strength for anyone studying history. The solitary nature of the history degree, makes such communal areas invaluable for providing an easy opportunity to socialise and integrate quickly into the community.

London has repeatedly been ranked one of the best places in the world for its student life. As a cultural capital there is a diverse range of museums, art, food (etc, etc.) that will satisfy all tastes. Of the many institutions London has to offer, I have chosen LSE for its specialised department in economic history. Economic history is entwined in the very socialist founding of the university and it remains one of the best places in the world to study the intersection between science and humanities.

The strength of Leiden University’s history degree lies in its international orientation. ‘Home of specialists on virtually all regions in the world’, Leiden is able to satisfy demands for a more global style of history teaching. Leiden ranks 1st internationally for history outside the UK and the US. Situated on two sites (Leiden and The Hague), if you choose to study at The Hague side of Leiden University, there is 11km of coastline available for beach and sea sports.

Perhaps one of the best ways to study history around the world is to choose a course which offers a year abroad. This option is particularly good for those who feel (quite understandably) at 18 they are not ready to move country. UCL excels in its year abroad programme, offering both emotional and financial support for students needing it on their year abroad. When in London, UCL offers a range of ways in which to access the vibrant culture of London, notably in offering student discounts for museums, exhibitions, transport, etc.

Edinburgh has been ranked the second best city to live in the UK. Of particular note on the Edinburgh culture scene is the Fringe Festival, which is the worlds largest arts festival. In 2018 Fringe featured over 55,000 performances. Edinburgh is an ‘internationally-focused’ university, which provides a Go Abroad Fund, which grants 250 students to go abroad each year.

There are many different factors to consider when looking to study abroad, whether that be for the entirety of your degree or for a year abroad. Each of these 7 choices have different strengths and weaknesses, however all of them sit comfortably within the top 20 rankings for studying history across the world. World rankings are dominated by institutions of the UK and USA. This accounts for their prominence in this list. In terms of resources, course and teaching-style the likes of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Oxford and Cambridge are leading in their field. The benefits of such a level playing-field (in terms of academics), is that it allows you to make a choice more strongly based on personal preference, be that sport, culture or proximity to home (I would not blame you if that were the case, do not underestimate the restorative power of a quick visit home!).

Categories: Articles, Guide Tags: , , , 22075 “Will I ever become a journalist or a writer?” Reading Anne Frank’s Diary as a Literary Text

‘I’m not planning to let anyone else read this stiff-backed notebook grandly referred to as a “diary,”’ wrote Anne Frank in June, 1942, a couple of days after receiving the notebook for her thirteenth birthday. Since the publication of the book by her father, Otto, in 1947, her teenage diary has been sold of 30 million copies and been translated into over 70 different languages. The thirteen-year-old girl who wrote the very first entry could not have dreamed how influential and widely-renowned she would become shortly after her death.While Anne’s diary is often viewed as a historical artefact, it can also be studied as a literary text. Anne dreamed of becoming a writer: many of her diary entries reflect on whether she’ll be able to make it as a journalist after the war, or whether the short stories she writes while in hiding might be published one day: ‘Will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?’ On the 75th anniversary of her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, we can pay tribute to her memory by reading her diary as the literary text she dreamed she would one day write.

Although she may have started her diary as a private record of her schoolmates and daily adventures, after a couple of years Anne began to edit and write the text to be published after the end of the war – in 1944 she heard a call on the radio for personal letters and diaries to be published as eye-witness accounts of the sufferings of Dutch people under German occupation. While all her entries are addressed to ‘Kitty’, the name she affectionately gives her notebook, her later writing is often addressed to an imaginary or hoped-for reader. Following a particularly unflattering description of Mrs Von D, another woman in hiding in the Annex, she adds a postscript: ‘P.S. Will the reader please take into consideration that this story was written before the writer’s fury had cooled?’ She was thinking critically about how the diary would be received, and the impact that her words would have on the reader – she doesn’t want to be judged badly for her quick temper. The idea of an author-reader relationship lends the text much more of a literary focus than the style of a personal diary, where, as in her earlier entries, she wouldn’t have worried about how other people might perceive her writing.Anne used her diary as a space for literary experimentation, showing the development of her own authorial style. One such example is a motif that runs throughout the diary: while at school, prior to being taken into hiding, Anne is repeatedly scolded by her teacher for being an uncontrollable chatterbox. As a punishment, he gives her an assignment: to write an essay entitled ‘Quack, Quack, Quack,’ said Mistress Chatterback.’ As the years pass by, Anne repeatedly refers back to this incident with good humour, making it into a literary motif – when a plumber visits the house below the annex where Anne and her family have gone into hiding, they must remain in complete silence for hours. ‘You can imagine how hard that was for Miss Quack, Quack, Quack,’ jokes Anne. At a low point, she worries that anyone who stumbled upon her diary would regard it merely as ‘The Musings of an Ugly Duckling’ rather than the work of historical importance she hoped. Yet despite her self-criticism and the attempts of her teacher to keep her quiet, her voice lives on through her book, becoming a mouthpiece for the thousands who suffered during Nazi occupation.Towards the end of the diary, we see Anne’s writing flourish with a beauty and wisdom that many writers strive – and often fail! – to achieve throughout their careers. “Riches, prestige, everything can be lost. But the happiness in your own heart can only be dimmed; it will always be there, as long as you live, to make you happy again. Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you’re pure within and will find happiness once more.” The strength that shines from her young words is unquestionably stunning. While the words seem to address herself, referencing the loft of the Annex she was living in, her words also reach out from the text and speak to the present-day reader with just as great an impact. The ability of great works of literature to speak not only to the situation detailed in the text, but also to the situation of the reader regardless of age, time or gender, is one that Anne harnesses here to powerful effect.

Literature has the power to keep voices alive in the present day, and share valuable lessons with us that otherwise might be lost to history. In 1944 Anne wrote ‘I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!’ In 2019 we can safely say that her voice has been kept alive through her diary, and she won’t ever have lived in vain.

writing Categories: Articles Tags: , , 9409 History Article: Want to Study History?

Interested in Studying History? In this article, we will review some insights that should be of use if you go down the path of taking history to university level.

If you go on to study history at university, you would be wise to heed the words of 21st-century Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. When asked about the consequences of the French Revolution, Premier Zhou famously replied ‘it’s too early to tell’.

Zhou’s comment hints at one of the foremost truths of the subject: history itself is never quite finished. Monumental events can have major and dynamic consequences in ways that surprise us all at the time. The historian who thinks they are writing the last word on a subject may come to find themselves surprised.

When History Becomes Relevant to Today

Historians understand that long-forgotten events and symbols can gain newfound importance in unexpected ways. When I travelled to Libya in 2011 to understand why the revolution there was happening, I saw thousands of pictures of national hero Omar Mukhtar.

Mukhtar had led the resistance to the Italian colonial occupation. His image had later been used by Colonel Gaddafi, who travelled to Italy with a picture of Mukhtar around his neck, to bolster his own anti-Western credentials. Yet Mukhtar had now re-emerged as the uniting symbol of the forces fighting to remove Colonel Gaddafi.

New circumstances had led Libyans to reinterpret their own history and symbols. Their history had gained new relevance to them through these new interpretations – though it is unlikely that Omar Mukhtar himself would have ever imagined himself ending up as the figurehead for a 21st-century revolution! Events can lead to major changes in how people understand history – and historians need to be sensitive to why these ‘paradigm shifts’ happen.

Shifts in popular morality can also lead to re-assessments of history. Many older Western political texts were lavish in their praise of the Greeks and the Romans – since the sea-change in popular feeling about slavery, however, praise has tends to be somewhat more tempered. As slavery became commonly understood to be morally abhorrent, the exact same historical events required a fresh perspective.

The historian must therefore always be attentive to changes in perspective. The judgment made 100 years ago will be different than the judgment made today…and also different from the judgment made in 2117, too. The historian must be circumspect enough in his or her conclusions to know that we may not have the last word on a subject, and wise enough to understand how others in different circumstances reached different conclusions. Remember: ’common sense’ is not constant!

Another vital skill the student of history requires is the ability to weigh up competing arguments to come to a well-supported conclusion. A historical conclusion without evidence is actually nothing more than an opinion – and real historians will treat it as such.

History and the Importance of Good Research

At Oxbridge Immerse, we teach this skill of reaching reasoned judgments not only on our history courses, but also through provision of debate workshops which encourage participants to reflect and respond to competing perspectives in a logical manner.

Much of the day-to-day work of a history degree will be spent undertaking research. This usually means spending time in a library, but there are diverse other types of historical research that reflect the diversity of historical study. For example, those interested in genealogical history might find themselves in archives, those interested in local history may spend extensive time in local museums, and those interested in political history might spend time conducting interviews.

Finding ways of honing your research skills before commencing your degree, therefore, is a sure-fire way of standing out from the competition when it comes to applying for a history course.

Whichever aspects of history you are interested in, a history degree will give you the tools to understand them better. Why not consider an Oxbridge Immerse summer school to give you a taster of studying history at university?

history cambridge summer school Categories: Articles Tags: , ,