The Unnecessary Synthesis of Prontosil: II


Today we take antibiotics very much for granted and face a serious problem with the emergence of widespread bacterial antibiotic resistance as a consequence of their inappropriate use.  In the years before 1935, bacterial infections were a deadly and an ever-present risk with people routinely dying after very minor scratches or cuts that became infected.  This all changed following Gerhard Domagk’s research on Prontosil, which became the first commercially available antibiotic. In its time, Prontosil was seen very much as miracle drug since after taking it patients who were near-death were revived and became healthy again within hours. Penicillin is often credited as the first antibiotic, but in fact Prontosil had been used to effectively treat bacterial infections for nearly a decade before penicillin became available. Dogmak’s work thus helped to save the lives of many millions. This process deliberately trivialises the synthesis of what was once a valuable wonder-drug and asks us to imagine a future where today’s life-saving antibiotics will be ineffective and similarly be put to inconsequential use.

In this video two precursors of Prontosil  are added seperately to a textile. As these chemicals diffuse through the medium, Prontosil forms at the interface where they meet.

Apartheid in Red and White

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The bacterium Serratia marcescens produces the red pigment prodigiosin and thus grows as red coloured colonies. Production of this pigment is metabolically expensive for the cells and when they are grown in the relative comfort of rich laboratory medium, they no longer need to produce prodigiosin, and in the absence of natural selection for this property, they loose the ability to produce it. In these images white non-pigment producing cells are segregating away from the parental red strain, and beginning the evolutionary journey into a new species.