Sir Alexander Fleming was not the first on the list.
Bedouins tribesmen in North Africa have made of healing ointment from the mold on donkey harnesses for more than a thousand years.
In 1897 a young French doctor Ernest Duchesne rediscovered this by observing Arab stable boys used the mold from damp saddles to treat saddle sores.
He conducted thorough research identifying the mold as Penicillium glaucum.
Used it to cure typhoid in guinea pigs, and noted its destructive effect on E. coli bacteria. It was the first clinically tested use of what came to be called penicillin.
He send his research as his doctoral thesis, arguing further study, but the Institut Pasteur did not even acknowledge receipt of his work, perhaps because he was only twenty three and a completely unknown student.
The capricious fortune apparently did not favor him. Dr. Ernest Duchesne died in 1912 from tuberculosis – a disease his own discovery would later help to cure.
History of medicine was much fairer lady. Ernest Duchesne was posthumously honored in 1949, five years after Sir Fleming had received a Nobel Prize for his re-discovery of the antibiotic effect of penicillin. He discovered this effect actually incidentally when a piece of food was dropped into a Petri dish. As H. Selye, the author of stress, joked:
“ If it would not be related to Alexander Fleming, I would think that somebody worked sloppy”. The genius sign was the fact that Fleming quickly recognized the significance of a space around a green “dirty green thing”, that was free from the pathological bacteria as antibiotic effect. He identified a green mold as Penicillium rubrum (red penicillin).
In fact, as later was proofed, he got species wrong. It was correctly identified many years later by Charles Thom as Penicillium notatum.
Fleming coined the word penicillin in 1929. The mold originally called Penicillium because, under a microscope, its spore – bearing arms were thought to look tiny paintbrushes. The Latin word for a writer’s paintbrush was penicillium, the same word from which pencil comes. In fact, what the mold cells of Penicillium notatum much more closely and spookily resemble is the hand bones of a human skeleton. Stilton, Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, Camembert, Limburger, and Brie all contain penicillin.
Ref: You could see pictures here:
John Lloyd and John Mitchinson: The Book of General Ignorance.
Harmony Books, New York, 2006