Thursday, August 13, 1998 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Penicillin mould sells for thousands
St Mary's Hospital: Where penicillin was discovered
A top London auction house swapped its usual fare of antiques and art to put a lump of mould up for sale on Thursday - and it sold for thousands.
It was snapped up by a dealer from Cheltenham on behalf of an American client for £8,050.
The mould was part of a major sale of medical instruments at the world renowned auction house.
Penicillin was discovered by Fleming in 1929 and was ready for commercial use by 1940. Fleming and two colleagues went on to share the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945.
The discovery of penicillin came when Fleming, who also won a knighthood for his discovery, forgot about a sample of bacteria he had left under a microscope in his lab at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London.
When he later stumbled across the bacteria he was surprised to see that a substance called penicillium had greatly reduced the spread of the bacteria, giving birth to penicillin and the antibiotic range of drugs.
Without penicillin many illnesses would remain incurable and life expectancy would be years lower.
First guinea pig
Despite improving his symptoms, an inability to produce enough penicillin meant he later died.
Penicillin was first produced on a large scale during World War Two, when millions of soldiers benefited.
Last year about 14,000 tonnes of penicillin was produced, worth £200m.
In total the auction raised £7,500. Items includeds domestic medicine chests, pharmaceutical accessories, hearing aids and surgical instruments.
The oldest item on sale was a dental tooth key thought to be from the late 17th century.