I can't wait to get a "Penicillium Plays in Peoria" T-shirt.
They're not yet for sale. But be patient: Peoria and penicillin are once again poised to make a big splash together.
OK, so maybe the latest development isn't as world-changing as when Peoria-based scientists developed mass production of penicillin, saving countless lives during World War II and thereafter. And perhaps it's sometimes hard to get hoot-and-holler excited over legislation, committees and other facets of state government.
However, penicillin (along with Peoria) is about to get proper respect. A bill has not only been introduced to make penicillium the state microbe, but it has a good chance to move along toward official designation.
Woo-hoo! Penicillium pandemonium? Perhaps.
"There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm," says Neil Price, who came up with the idea.
Price is a research chemist at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, more commonly known as the ag lab. There, during World War II, scientists raced to find a way to mass produce penicillin, in part to fight common infections that often felled soldiers in combat. In June 1942, there wasn’t enough penicillin in America to treat 10 patients. But thanks to the support of Peorians, the lab's diligence led to the U.S. manufacturing 2.3 million doses of the drug just in advance of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in June 1944. To this day, penicillin remains the most widely used antibiotic.
Price long has wondered why Peoria hasn't tooted its own horn about its involvement with penicillin. Last month, this space shared his suggestion that Illinois adopt penicillium — the microbe from which penicillin is made — as the state microbe. Other states have such designations for other microbes, and an Illinois designation would help promote Peoria and the ag lab.
As part of that column, I contacted Sen. Dave Koehler, whose district includes the ag lab. The Democrat said he'd be willing to consider Price's idea.
Days after the piece here, Koehler introduced Senate Bill 1857, which "provides that Penicillium chrysogenum NRRL 1951 is designated the official State microbe of the State of Illinois."
Price appeared Wednesday before the Senate's state government committee to talk about the development of penicillin in Peoria. The bill passed out of committee, meaning it could soon see a vote by the full Senate. From there, the bill would go to the House, then to the governor.
Koehler didn't return my request for comment. But Price relayed a message from the lawmaker: "Sen. Koehler asked me to pass on that he expects the bill ... to pass (from) the Senate floor and move forward to the House."
If Gov. JB Pritzker were to sign the bill into law — and it's not as if there are competing microbe factions — then penicillium would become the state microbe. If all goes well, Price says, Koehler would try to convince the governor to come to Peoria for the official signing.
It'd be good to hold such a ceremony at the ag lab on June 6 — the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Let's hope everything gets pinned down soon.
That way, we'll have plenty of time to get going on those T-shirts.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.