Wellcome Trust Blog

AlligatorWe’re publishing the shortlisted entries to the 2012 Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize. Here, Russell Fraser on the paucity of new antibiotics and the unusual new armaments in the war against bacterial resistance.

Our current arsenal of antibiotic medications is becoming increasingly ineffective, and scientists are turning to unusual sources for new drugs. From alligator blood to cockroach brains to marijuana, chemicals are being discovered that will one day shape the future of antibiotic therapy.

The story of antibiotic resistance begins with Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. Fleming, a brilliant scientist and notorious slob, returned from a family vacation to find an improperly stored culture of bacteria contaminated with mould. In what would turn out to be a fortunate mistake, Fleming had discovered ‘mould juice,’ better known today as penicillin.

Mass production of penicillin began in earnest during World War II. Its widespread use saved many lives…

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