What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics, also known as anti-bacterials, are the primary treatments to combat illnesses and infections caused by bacteria, as they either stop these organisms from reproducing or kill them altogether. Typically, doctors will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic that will target a wide range of potential bacterial infections, but there are also narrow spectrum antibiotics that are designed to eliminate specific bacteria. Antibiotics are used to combat bacterial illnesses, such as meningitis, tuberculosis and salmonella, and they are also used as a preventive measure before surgeries (prophylactic use) to prevent potential infections after surgery (MedlinePlus).
How were antibiotics developed?
The first antibiotic ever developed was penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928, which was derived from experiments on the influenza virus. By chance, Fleming discovered that mold had begun to form on a staphylococcus culture plate, and the mold bacteria had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. After further research, Fleming found that, even when diluted, the mold culture stunted the growth of staphylococcus bacteria, and he chose to name the newly-minted antibiotic penicillin.
By World War II, penicillin was put into mass production and saved thousands of lives by treating troops in the field and in hospitals for infections. It was nicknamed "the wonder drug" by the American press and sparked a race between drug manufacturers to develop newer and more effective antibiotics. Today, four out of five Americans each year are prescribed antibiotics to treat a wide variety of conditions and these medications are among the most significant medical discoveries to emerge from the 20th century (Microbiology Society).