Medicine: The Penicillin Eaters

While routinely examining a vaginal swab from a woman infected with gonorrhea, Dr. Ian Phillips of London's St. Thomas's Hospital made an alarming discovery: the swab contained a strain of gonococci, or gonorrhea-causing bacteria, unlike any that Phillips had ever seen before in his laboratory. The bean-shaped bugs not only were totally resistant to penicillin—the medication generally employed against this common and often dangerous venereal disease—but actually seemed to thrive in its presence.

Phillips' find was not unique. The new strain of bacteria had shown up in several other laboratories in Britain, and doctors at Travis Air Force Base in California encountered...

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