2023 Children's Science News - Silver

Stephen Ornes recounts an early career choice of Chelsea Wood, who wanted to be a marine biologist but who wound up working during college in a research lab that specialized in parasitic worms. At first, she thought they were disgusting. “I thought they were gross and slimy,” she told Ornes. “Why would anyone ever want to work on them.” She saw, however, that while parasites could be harmful to an individual organism, they also could be beneficial to the ecosystems in which they live. She became hooked. “Parasites just wormed their way into my heart,” Wood says. Now an ecologist at the University of Washington, she specializes in parasites of all sorts – they make up four out of every 10 species on the planet – and she and other specialists in the field are on a campaign to save them. A 2017 study estimated that due to climate change, up to one-third of all parasite species could be extinct by 2070. For now, scientists face a serious challenge. “Most people don’t like parasites or want them to be conserved,” Wood tells Ornes. “So, the most important thing to me is that minds need to change. The challenge is to make that shift.” Judge Geoffrey Kamadi, a Kenyan science journalist, said Ornes “skillfully shows why it is important to preserve parasites, by highlighting the important research work that scientists are doing to help understand these organisms.” Dan Vergano, senior opinion editor at Scientific American, called the Ornes piece “an enthralling peek into the world of parasites, a counter-intuitive glimpse into how scientists investigate the natural world.” Ornes, now a three-time winner of the AAAS Kavli award, said: “I'm grateful to AAAS and the Kavli Foundation for their continued recognition and support of high-quality science journalism for today's young readers, who are tomorrow's leaders and thinkers. Science News Explores is an extraordinary outlet run by extraordinary editors.”