It comes from mold, right? Does it require advanced training in chemistry and at least early 20th century equipment? Could you go back to the late 1700’s and make it with equipment available at that time?
This does not answer your question but I remember a scene in a movie or TV show where a scientist character in primitive conditions looked through moldy bread and scraped the mold off and either administered it as is or somehow processed it.
And I remember wondering if that was really possible.
Forgot to add the scientist was doing this because they had no medical grade antibiotics.
I read a fascinating book recently on the development of (usable) penecillin. The Mould in Doctor Florey’s Coat
Short version - it’s harder than you think. It took about seventeen years from Fleming’s first discovery till it was produceable in sufficient quantities to start displacing the previous antibiotics of choice. Granted, for a lot of that time nobody was really trying, but during WWII there was serious effort and serious money being put into the research, and it still took them four years.
Eat lots of blue cheese. The blue stuff is penicillin roqueforti. However it is not concentrated enough for medicinal purposes. Explaining why I don’t have a severe allergic reaction to it.
The question made me think of this very scene. Any chance you remember what it was from? It’s bugging the hell out of me.
A bit of googling reveals that penicillin is still extracted from the fungus, not chemically synthesized. Here’s a good link that describes the manufacturing process. It looks pretty straightforward and possible to do without modern equipment. Of course, not scientists will have that memorized, but I bet a chemist with some knowledge of the fungus (or a mycolegist with some knowledge of organic chemistry) could figure it out with some trial and error.
You’ll have difficulty with dosages and concentrations, though, if you set up a garage lab to manufacture your own penicillin.
Since penicillin was one of the first antibiotics, most of the microbes in the world have developed a massive resistance to it. You need gargantuan doses today, as compared to fifty years ago. And the chemists have tinkered with the molecule to give it hyper assault tactics against germs.
People who are allergic to penicillin, however, can still get mighty sick from a small dose. While The Second Stone may not have problems eating blue cheese, he or she needs to make sure there’s absolutely no mold on fruit or bread products to be consumed.
Too bad those drug-tinkering chemists can’t do something about the TASTE of the stuff–BLEAHHHH!
In any time before the 20th century, I wouldn’t worry so much about allergies or optimal dosing. Most penicillin allergies aren’t terribly serious, causing rashes or hives. The truly life-threatening allergies are fairly rare. Google tells me that about 7% of patients will have any signs of allergy whatsoever, while just 0.3% have serious reactions.
Besides, the time-traveling physician can administer a quick and dirty allergy test, giving either a low dose or just a scratch test.
Compared to the risks from an infection, I’d take the penicillin any day.
I am surprised that they haven’t moved to a different species with the gene for making penicillin inserted. That is a pretty standard method for synthesizing a lot of natural drugs like this. Heck, I’m pretty sure even unnatural ones can be made that way. I guess this species produces penicillin fast enough that there is no need to change.
This was from the tv show sliders, when they went to some planet where they were clean freaks, and there was a massive plauge going around.
Yeah, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? That method seems almost ridiculously cheap and simple, and it gives good yields. You could engineer yeast to make penicillin, but then you’re just trading one easy-to-culture fungus for another. Perhaps you could increase the yield from 0.5% to 1%, but if you want to double your production you could also just get a second fermenter. A biosynthetic approach makes a lot more sense when the only alternatives are harvesting the drug from a rare and endangered species of plant, or a very costly and low-yield chemical synthesis.
I believe even in the old Kingdom Egypt, 5000 years ago, they used mouldy bread for infections, so it was not THAT much of a surprise.