Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Between Wartime Penicillin's initial failure ( Chemistry) and its final success (Biology) stood a third party : the humanitarians

When I call Henry Dawson "Penicillin's Third Man", I am being more than ordinarily facetious.

Penicilin's problem was chemistry-besotted biologists, the solution was  biologically-pragmatic chemists and the connecting threat were a tiny group of humanitarian-minded clinicians.

I mean that penicillin's main problem was - dating from September 1928 - was that its initial (biological) investigators  -names like Fleming,Florey and Richards spring to mind - tacitly accepted penicillium production levels of one microgram of penicillin per gram of medium as a given.

 As a result, they sought - blinker-eyed - only one possible solution : the total chemical synthesis of penicillin.

By contrast, it was chemist Larry Elder who finally pushed mycologists into doing their jobs like people on a mission, not people politely going through the motions.

And it was Larry who sought out "farmer-minded" scientists from any and all fields to up penicillium yields the old-fashioned way, the way farmers had successfully done so with other species for thousands of years : trial and error selective breeding.

But before people like Larry could be called in on the file, the public in September 1943 had to be outraged, ("its been 15 years since penicillin was discovered and  its still in desperately short supply !") and demanding that the authorities put new people on the job to finally start making this stuff - now - and in bulk.

Elder, Colitti, Queen, Hearst never get the credit they deserve

The humanitarians like Henry Dawson, Robert Pulvertaft, Rudy Schulinger , Frank Queen and Dante Colitti all pushed the civil and military powers to be to make penicillin available for all who are dying - now !

And when the purple-toned slash yellow press of Citizen Hearst picked up on their efforts, all the pieces fell into place.

In less than six months, the government of America was pulling a little bit of its money out from making nuclear bombs and germ warfare and towards saving lives and the job was done.

 America - and soon the world - would be awash with cheap naturally-breed penicillium-made penicillin....

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