The mass production of antibiotics began during World War II with streptomycin and penicillin. Now most antibiotics are produced by staged fermentations in which strains of microorganisms producing high yields are grown under optimum conditions in nutrient media in fermentation tanks holding several thousand gallons. The mold is strained out of the fermentation broth, and then the antibiotic is removed from the broth by filtration, precipitation, and other separation methods. In some cases new antibiotics are laboratory synthesized, while many antibiotics are produced by chemically modifying natural substances; many such derivatives are more effective than the natural substances against infecting organisms or are better absorbed by the body, e.g., some semisynthetic penicillins are effective against bacteria resistant to the parent substance.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.