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How Sex and Scientific Research Saved Your Steak Dinner (and Bambi) From the Screwworm Fly—Again

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How Sex and Scientific Research Saved Your Steak Dinner (and Bambi) From the Screwworm Fly—Again

By Alec Gerry | May 18, 2017

entomology today

By Susan J. Weller, Ph.D., and Robert K.D. Peterson, Ph.D.

If there is one thing that we have learned from scientific research, it’s this: We cannot know where the next breakthrough will come from, but maintaining adequate funding for our nation’s scientific researchers is money well-spent. As an example, consider the screwworm fly in the Florida Keys.

For nearly 70 years, the U.S. federal government and international partners have been deploying a highly successful, if surprising, technique to deal with this devastating pest of cattle, pets, and other animals—releasing more screwworm flies. But the released flies are special; custom-reared in the lab to be sterile and so unable to mate or reproduce.

Though the name of the screwworm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax) may sound silly, anyone who knows its potential damage isn’t laughing. Managing the ravages of this deadly pest used to cost ranchers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. These pests can deliver a gruesome and painful death to a full-grown cow in less than two weeks. The females lay their eggs in open wounds and, if left untreated, the maggots eat the living parts of the animal.

In the 1930s, two enterprising young U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, Edward Knipling and Raymond Bushland, weren’t satisfied just treating symptoms. To control the problem, they had to focus more on the screwworms. Their idea was to find a way to sterilize promiscuous male screwworm flies and then release them in the wild, overwhelming the fertile native flies, and crashing the population. The problem was one of scale – how to mass-castrate enough flies to have an effect?


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Topics: Academic, Animal Disease, Historical Information, pest management | No Comments »


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