In the scifi novel Lucifer's Hammer, one of the characters (a biologist, if I remember correctly) finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world and tries to make penicillin to save his own life. To do this, he repeatedly states that he needs "a goat" - for some reason which is never explained.

I know that penicillin (in its various forms) is a byproduct of some types of fungi (see Wikipedia), but I can't make sense of the statement "I need a goat to make it". Assuming you don't have a chemical lab at your disposal (think "post-apocalyptic world"), does this requirement make any sense to any of you (apart from "I need to eat the goat to stay alive long enough to find a deserted biochemical lab" :-) )?

If not, how would you go about finding or making penicillin in such an environment?


Here is a link to a survivalist blog with a protocol for making penicillin. (I'm not recommending this by the way.)

Is it possible that the reference to the goat in Lucifer's Hammer is for the extraction of insulin (from the pancreas)? Have a look at the Wikipedia entry for Eva Saxl - in Shanghai during WWII her husband kept her alive with insulin extracted from water buffalo pancreas.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm kind of lost... what does insulin have to do with penicillin? $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Sep 1 '12 at 15:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I gather from my research that the post-apocalyptic manufacture of insulin is a plot element in the novel - just thought the questioner might have mixed things up a little. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Sep 1 '12 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ ahhh... OK, now it makes sense! :) $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Sep 1 '12 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Absolutely. I read the novel years ago and I did indeed mix up insulin and penicillin. Thank you for this hint, I feel a little stupid now but at least I got two correct answers for one question. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Jens
    Sep 2 '12 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, it would not necessarily need to be a goat, insulin has for many years been extracted from the pancreas of pigs. $\endgroup$
    – nico
    Sep 2 '12 at 20:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.