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Guess how much someone paid for this dish full of mold

Serious question: How much would you pay for this dish full of mold? I mean, pay to own it, not to get it out of your field of vision.

A dish of mold just sold for thousands of dollars to an anonymous buyer in London. An auctioneer explains why the mold is so valuable. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Alastair Grant/The Washington Post)

How about $14,600? That’s how much an anonymous buyer in London shelled out at an auction for this miserable patch of fuzz, according to the Associated Press.

If that sounds like a bad deal, consider this: the mold is actually a penicillin culture that belonged to Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered the world's first antibiotic in 1928.

If that still sounds like a bad deal, well, maybe you are just not as nerdy as some people.

Fleming himself would have considered the culture well worth the money. The Scottish biologist, who famously figured out penicillin’s antimicrobial properties when it fell into one of his petri dishes, was fond of distributing samples of his famous mold as mementos. He gave one to actress Ruth Draper after being captivated by one her performances. A neighbor who scared off burglars from Fleming’s home got another. Kevin Brown, archivist at the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum, told the AP that Fleming gave a sample to Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip every time they met (it’s not clear whether the prince kept the gifts).

And this December, another buyer paid $46,250 for a different Fleming sample, according to Smithsonian Magazine — making this week’s purchase look like a steal.

[The superbug that doctors have been dreading just reached the United States]

As molds go, this one is pretty impressive. It won Fleming the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945 (he shared the prize with pathologist Howard Florey and biochemist Ernst Chain), and is credited with saving millions of lives.

In the U.S. alone, more than 250 million courses of antibiotics are prescribed per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while dangerous — and potentially deadly — antibiotic resistance is on the rise, many of us owe our lives to Fleming's serendipitous discovery 90 years ago.

That measly little mold is starting to sound pretty cool now, isn’t it?

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