We haven’t always relied on the latest new medicines to remedy what ails us. At one time, we used what we had around us…even if it was something as primative or supposedly disgusting as a piece of moldy bread, urine, honey, among others. As it is the ‘father’ of modern antibiotics, we shall focus on the example of the moldy bread, and mold in general.
It can also be noted with considerable interest that ancient Egyptians used honey as a wound dressing. This is because some honey contains, in small quantities, hydrogen peroxide, which, along with the gelatinous nature of honey, formed a protective seal. Ancient Indian healers reportedly also used urine as a treatment with equal or greater success that that of the Egyptians and their honey-treatments.
Perhaps one of the earliest recorded examples of natural antibiotics was in ancient Serbia, where old bread was pressed up wounds to help prevent infection. Whether they knew it or not at the time, and it is regarded as highly unlikely that they did, many of the molds that grew on the bread that they pressed upon their wounds contained early, raw forms of penicillin. The mold killed off festing infections, and the technique became more widely known.
Mold-use was also practiced in ancient China and Greece, much in the same way as the Serbians used it.
Even the Sri Lankan army in the first century BC used mold-based treatments when a combatant would become wounded; sweet cakes would be allowed to become moldy, and the mold would be used as a cataplasm to help prevent or treat infections, and also as a desiccant.
While these techniques were practiced, it could be said that they did not fully understand the nature of the medicine they practiced.
It wasn’t until 1640, when John Parkington wrote about mold’s effectiveness as an antibiotic in his book on pharmacology that mold became more studied and respected as a treatment.
In 1870, Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson observed and recorded his observation that a culture fluid that had been manually placed with mold would not produce bacteria.
In 1871, the surgeon Joseph Lister, encouraged by the notes recorded by Burdon-Sanderson, began researching the phenomenon that urine that had been contaminated with mold would not allow the successful growth of bacteria. Also in 1871, the effects of the newly named penicillium glaucum on the tissue of living humans.
In 1875, John Tyndall pressed onward with work in this field when he demonstrated the antibiotic effects of the penicillium glaucum fungus to the Royal Society.
Louis Pasteur (also famous for the invention of the process of pasteurization) in 1877 coordinated efforts with his colleague Jules Francois Joubery to determine that cultures of bacillus anthracis specked with the penicillium notatum could not easily sustain growth.
However, with the mass-production of bio-chemical antibiotics that followed the successful research of Norman Heatley (who proposed replacing the antibiotic key part of the penicillin back into a proportional amount of water by changing its acidity; this allowed for it to be produced in quantities large enough that animals could begin to be used in experimentation, and evently lead to the large scale manufacturing in 1941.), some strains of bacteria began to adapt and become resistant to antibiotics.
Thus, we came to the place we are at today; not all antibiotics work on all bacteria any more, due to acquired resistance. Eventually, we had to resort to using harsher chemical or more and more varied solutions provided by more and more rigorously tested molds and funguses to cure diseases that were become more and more common.