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Which Fruit Was Vital for the Mass Production of Penicillin?

Updated May 17, 2024
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The world owes a great debt of gratitude to a neglectful fruit seller in Peoria, Illinois. Though his or her name is lost to history, the importance of a moldy cantaloupe being sold at the market wasn't lost on Mary Hunt, a lab assistant who bought the melon and brought it back to work with her.

It happened in 1942, in the midst of World War II, when the United States was in crisis mode over the lack of penicillin. Fortuitously, two doctors at that Peoria lab saw hope in the cantaloupe and were able to extract a much higher amount of penicillin than had ever been accomplished before. They knew they had a miraculous find, and sent the mold to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Dr. Milislav Demerec utilized X-rays to extract even more. Ultimately, that single cantaloupe provided enough penicillin to save an immeasurable number of lives during the war, and in the decades that followed.

Penicillin's path:

  • According to legend, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he entered his lab to find an uncapped Petri dish with mold -- now known as Penicillium notatum -- growing on it.

  • Anne Miller was the first person to benefit from penicillin when she was treated with it in 1942, after suffering from a dangerous infection after a miscarriage.

  • Penicillin comes in many forms, all of which can be used to treat different bacterial infections and prevent disease.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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