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FOOD: Mouldy Mary

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Frederick The Monk
338407.  Sat May 17, 2008 4:03 am Reply with quote

Q: How did Mary’s mouldy melon save millions?

A: A single cantaloupe melon found by 'Mouldy' Mary Hunt in 1943 was responsible for the mass production of penicillin.

Mary’s Mouldy Melons
While Alexander Fleming was responsible for naming penicillin in 1928 he had one major problem. Namely - how to cultivate it for mass production. This achievement lay with Howard Florey - an Australian who was Professor of Pathology at Oxford University from the 1920s onwards.

In order to capitalise on American financial backing, Florey travelled to the States in the early 1940s to find a way of creating higher yields. The most successful manufacturing process Florey found was cultivating penicillin on "Corn steep liquor' made from processing maize in huge 25, 000 gallon fermentation tanks.

However, Florey eventually realised that the process would never yield enough of Fleming's mould - Penicillium notatum - to save lives commercially. He and his team went in search of alternative penicillin moulds. Soil samples were sent from all over the world, but to no avail.

Then, in 1943, Mary Hunt, a lab worker in Peoria, Illinois brought in a cantaloupe melon. It was said to have been infected with a 'pretty, golden mould'. This mould was 'Penicillium chrysogeum'. It yielded about 200 times as much penicillin as Fleming's mould. Florey used x-rays to mutate the mould, which eventually gave 1000 times the yield of penicillin from the original.

From January to May 1943, only 400 million units of penicillin had been made; by the time the war ended, U.S. companies were making 650 billion units a month.

Along with Fleming and Ernst Chain, Florey won the Nobel Prize for their work on penicillin. Mary got nothing.

More Notes:
Mary’s Mouldy Melons
Stilton, Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, Camembert and Limburger all contain penicillin. The white mould used on Brie is called Penicillium camemberti, which is odd because Brie predates the invention of Camembert by about 1000 years.

The penicillin mould was originally named Penicillium because under a microscope it's spore-bearing arms look like tiny paintbrushes. The word 'penicillin' was coined in 1929 by Alexander Fleming, after he accidentally noticed the antibiotic properties of a mould which he identified as a species of Penicillium

Alexander Fleming first made his name by developing a vaccine against acne.
He gained membership of the Chelsea Arts Club (where he used to play snooker with the sculptor, E Roland Bevan) because he painted pictures made of bacteria. Ernest Duchesne, a doctor in the French Army, discovered penicillin 40 years before Fleming.

Penicillium is a fungus with no known sexual state. It is a member of the deuteromycetes.


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