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.