You’re Probably Alive Because of a Moldy Cantaloupe from Peoria


On March 14, 1942, penicillin was first used in the United States to treat a bacterial infection. The good news was that it worked. The bad news was that half of all the available experimental supply was dispensed on that first patient. World War II was raging, and the War Production Board needed millions of doses for sick and wounded soldiers. The problem was that scientists hadn’t figured out how to scale production of the persnickety penicillium mold. Enter Doctors Robert D. Coghill and Kenneth B. Raper of the Department of Agriculture’s Northern Regional Laboratory in Peoria, Illinois. They found in a cantaloupe a strain of mold which gave a much higher yield of penicillin than any of the original varieties. The spores from the moldy melon were used to seed almost all of the penicillin production facilities at the time, saving the lives of countless soldiers and civilians. The rest, as they say, is history.