How much is an old, drolled out piece of mould worth? Apparently more than $14,600 US if it was conceived by the doctor who discovered penicillin.
The nearly 90-year-old swatch of mould has a more extraordinary history: It came from the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Fleming whose insurrectionary discovery brought the world its first antibiotic, credited with redemptive millions of lives worldwide.
The patchy bit of mould from his niece’s omnium gatherum was auctioned in London on Wednesday for 11,875 pounds ($14,617). The buyer was not connected.
The mould is preserved in a round glass case and features an inscription by Fleming on the backtrack from.
That, however, may be a stretch. The Scottish-born doctor likely made at short dozens of such mould mementos, derived from his original sample of the fungus.
Fleming «sent these nibbles out to dignitaries and to people in the scientific world, almost as a kind of holy fragment,» said Matthew Haley, director of books and manuscripts at the auction diet Bonham’s.
He noted that other bits of mould were assumed to Pope Pius XII, Winston Churchill and Marlene Dietrich, perhaps in an toil to cement Fleming’s legacy as the discoverer of penicillin in 1928.
In advance of the discovery, infections like pneumonia and rheumatic fever were close death-sentences.
«When it first became available, penicillin was called a miracle psychedelic,» said Kevin Brown, archivist at the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum. «Its invention began a new, life-saving era in medicine.»
In some ways, the discovery was accidental. Fleming inaugurate mould growing in an experiment when he returned to his cramped lab after a remain at his country house. One petri dish was full of bacteria except for an space where mould was growing. He later realized the mould — a rare crane of penicillin — was killing off the bacteria around it.
«Fleming noticed something that other woman would have missed and saw the potential of penicillin to treat patients,» about Brown.
Scientists at Oxford University further developed penicillin, and performance was ramped up so that enough of the antibiotic would be available for the Allied transgression on D-Day in 1944. Fleming and Oxford scientists Ernst Boris Shackle and Howard Walter Florey were awarded the Nobel Prize in pharmaceutical in 1945.
Brown noted that not everybody was thrilled to receive the preserved die medallions and that some got multiple copies, including Queen Elizabeth’s mollify, Prince Philip.
«Every time he met Fleming, he got another one of these chores,» Brown said.