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discoveries that improve our daily lives.
USDA chemist Andrew J. Moyer developed an industrial process for making
penicillin and other antibiotics, vitamins, drugs, and chemicals.
great gift to modern medicine...
In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish
bacteriologist, discovered a mold with bacteria-killing powers so incredible it
was effective even when diluted 800 times. The mold, which appeared to be
relatively nontoxic, promised to have therapeutic value. If only it could be
produced in quantity!
Efforts to produce large amounts of the
elusive mold failed and failed again, and a worldwide disappointment set in.
For the next 10 years, people continued to suffer and die from common
infections while the promise of penicillin languished.
Then, in July of 1941, two British
scientists, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley, visited the United States from
war-beleaguered England. With them, they brought the mold, which had been
converted into a stable brown powder.
Arriving in the United States, they were
directed to USDA's Northern Laboratory, now a component of today's Agricultural
Research Service, in Peoria, Illinois. The scientists in Peoria immediately
rolled up their sleeves and started their cultures of penicillium. By November
26, 1941 (just days before Pearl Harbor), Andrew J. Moyer, the lab's expert on
the nutrition of molds, had succeeded, with the assistance of Dr. Heatley, in
increasing the previous yields of penicillin 10 times.
The secret was corn steep liquor, familiar
to agricultural researchers as a byproduct of the wet corn-milling process but
obscure to medical researchers of the day. By including this nutrient-rich
liquor in the culture medium, Dr. Moyer found a better growth medium than
anything tried in England.
Dissatisfied still, he added milk sugar to
the medium, and again the Penicillium mold doubled. Moyer also figured out how
to use deep vats to grow the cultures. So encouraging were the results that
four U.S. drug companies agreed to attempt large-scale production of
penicillin. Nevertheless, by March 1942, they'd only produced enough of the
drug to treat a single case.
Then the Peoria researchers made yet another
breakthrough. Searching for a superior strain of Penicillium, they found it on
a moldy cantaloupe in a Peoria garbage can. When the new strain was made
available to drug companies, production skyrocketed.
Thanks to the combined efforts of many
people, penicillin was available in quantity to treat Allied soldiers wounded
on D-Day. And ever after.
In 1987, Moyer was posthumously named to the
National Inventors Hall of Fame in Arlington, Virginia. There he joined such
luminaries as Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and the Wright brothers. Dr.
Andrew Jackson Moyer was the first Government researcher ever to be