Scientists at American Cyanamid’s Lederle laboratory linked animal nutrition and antibiotics — by accident:
The Lederle team was investigating a long-time poultry nutrition mystery: when chickens rooted through bacteria-rich manure — their own or other animals’ — they laid more eggs and enjoyed lower mortality rates and less illness. The team turned its microscopes on those henhouse organisms and discovered that one of them produced a substance that resembled B12. Was B12 was the mysterious factor that distinguished animal proteins from plant-based counterparts? Team members tested that proposition by feeding animals with B12, in this case a batch created with residues from the manufacture of the antibiotic Aureomycin.
They assumed that the B12, like any vitamin, would enhance the animals’ health, but the results astonished them: The animals that ate that Aureomycin-based B12 sample grew fifty percent faster than those fed B12 manufactured from other residues. Initially team members believed that they had discovered yet another vitamin. Further tests revealed the startling truth: They’d inadvertently employed a batch of B12 that contained not just manufacturing residues but tiny amounts of Aureomycin, too.
The two-for-one, marveled a reporter for Science News Letter, “cast the antibiotic in a spectacular new role” for the “survival of the human race in a world of dwindling resources and expanding populations.” Farmers wasted no time abandoning expensive animal proteins in favor of both B12 and infinitesimal, inexpensive doses of antibiotics. Their livestock reached market weight more quickly, and farmers’ production costs dropped. Consumers enjoyed lower prices for pork and poultry.