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Biotechnology and Medicine

By June 11, 2008

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Modern biotechnology is being used in many areas of medicine from making vaccines and drugs to determining genetic origins of disease, producing organs for xenotransplant and developing nanomedical diagnostic methods.

Biotechnology has been in existance for thousands of years, originating in food production, but when was the first biotechnological application in medicine? The revolution began with the advent of biologically-produced antibiotics and the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1929. Fleming observed that cultures of Staphylococcus aureus were killed when accidentally contaminated with the fungus Penicillium notatum. Fleming published his work on the inhibiting substance that was found in the cell-free culture media, after the fungal cells were removed. Penicillin was not developed into a commercial product for therapeutic use until the 1940s. Prior to this discovery, antimicrobial compounds were used to treat syphilis and other diseases, but were manufactured chemically.

Read more about the history of penicillin and Fleming.


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