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Keeping countries free from flesh-eating worms

Screwworms once killed millions of dollars’ worth of cattle a year by finding their way into these animals through any opening in their skin. These flesh-eating worms named C. hominivorax can infect any living, warm-blooded animal, including pets and humans.

In the 1950s, ranchers urged the United States Department of Agriculture to act, leading to a multidecade effort to get the country free of screwworms. WW2 had just ended; the world already knew the horrific impact radiation could have on human and tissue cells. Would radiation be able to sterilize screwworms? Scientists discovered that it could.

Not long after, sterilized male screwworms became the most effective tool against this deadly scourge. Efforts to combat it, still in place, now extend from the US to Central America and have created an international screwworm barrier along the Panama-Colombia border. Every week, planes drop 14.7 million sterilized screwworms over the rainforest dividing these two countries. Innovation and research have been fundamental to keeping these countries safe and might be the answer to many more diseases. Science is more than an observation tool; it is part of the solution.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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