Journey of an Antibiotic

Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has traumatised the entire planet.

Around the world scientists and doctors have taken time to understand the exact course of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and struggled to find suitable treatments.

COVID-19 is a grim reminder of the terrible toll taken by various infectious diseases throughout human history.

Smallpox and tuberculosis to the plague and measles, a variety of diseases that are easily transmitted from person to person have killed innumerable people over the centuries.
In the past, there was no effective treatment at all for all these diseases nor even an understanding of their cause and how to prevent  them.

It was only in the late seventeenth century that bacteria and other tiny living organisms were discovered by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist and businessman using a single-lensed microscope of his own design.

It took another century though for the French scientist Louis Pasteur to confirm the link between bacteria and infectious diseases with his…

Once Pasteur’s theory became established the search also began for a way to disable or kill all disease causing bacteria. Paul Ehlrich, the German chemist envisioned that just like a bullet fired from a gun to hit a specific target, there could be a way to specifically target invading microbes, using special chemical compounds, which he called ‘magic bullets’.


Salvarsan, an arsenic-based chemical discovered by Ehrlich and his team in 1909, proved an effective treatment for syphilis and was probably the first truly modern antimicrobial agent.

In 1928 Alexander Fleming discovered that certain fungi naturally produce an antibiotic to ward off bacteria.


The actual production of the antibiotic, called Penicillin, in a manner and scale suitable for wider use, was worked out by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain in 1942. Both of them shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Fleming in 1945.


The discovery of Penicillin and many other antibiotics have saved millions of lives and for several decades it was believed by many health officials that infectious diseases had been conquered once and for all.

There are many complex factors that drive antibiotic resistance, ranging from industry incentives and competition, to lack of public awareness and inappropriate prescriptions.

They had all spoken too soon and not accounted for the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria manage to escape the effect of antibiotics and continue to thrive, resulting in failure of treatment.

In this website we follow the antibiotic on its long and adventurous journey, from the cradle of a research lab to its ultimate abode in the guts of a two or four legged animal, that includes us human beings.

It is only by understanding antibiotics in all their multiple dimensions that we can begin to start using them correctly and find solutions to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.