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"Prawn Stars" -- The Discovery Files

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New research provides a roadmap for how entrepreneurs can harness freshwater prawns' voracious appetite for snails to reduce the transmission of parasites that cause schistosomiasis -- the second most devastating parasitic disease worldwide, after malaria -- while still making a profit selling the prawns as food. The study shows how small-scale farming of freshwater prawns -- also known as aquaculture -- could be a win-win for communities in emerging and developing economies where schistosomiasis is common.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:
Prawn Stars.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Malaria -- the number one devastating parasitic disease worldwide. Ever wonder what's number two? "Schistosomiasis" (shi·stuh·sow·my·uh·sihs). Also called "Snail Fever" because (Sound effect: river sounds) certain freshwater snails transmit the parasite. It kills around 200,000 people a year especially in developing regions. There are drugs to treat the disease, but they quickly leave people vulnerable to reinfection. On the plus side, freshwater prawns love the tiny mollusks, (Sound effect: Pac-man sound) and will eat them voraciously but cannot contract or spread schistosomiasis -- it isn't transmitted through ingestion.

A team led by the University of California, Berkeley, has developed a roadmap for how entrepreneurs can harness hungry prawns to reduce disease transmission and make a profit doing it -- by introducing hatchery-raised prawns into infected waterways. The prawns plump up on the snails -- controlling the spread of snail fever, while generating revenue for the farmers, who then sell the harvested prawns.

The researchers' model indicates the optimal point to stock and harvest. Where followed, it could help nearly eradicate snail fever in 10 years. All while providing the benefits of locally-sourced production for communities in emerging economies.

I call this a win-win. Except for the snails.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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