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The Cell from Hell

Part Four of Rodney Barker's book And the Waters Turned to Blood continues the story the author tells of a threat from a deadly aquatic organism called Pfiesteria piscicida, called by scientists "the cell from hell," which threatened to produce a biological and ecological nightmare. The story began in the 1980s when thousands of dead fish were found in the estuaries of North Carolina, all stripped to the bone. Fishermen in the region began developing open sores that would not heal. Scientists studying the microorganisms they believed caused this were also taken ill. One result was that officials attacked those bringing them this news rather than attacking the organism itself.

The background of JoAnn Burkholder, a woman who had decided as a child that the animal world was of more interest to her than the human world, is important to the story. She developed her connection with nature through her father. Her knowledge of the way politics operated in a scientific setting caused her to want to fight back as her father had done in his life, and she saw the way the State of North Carolina was politicizing science. In the case of the Pfiesteria piscicida organism, Burkholder felt that something sinister was happening, and she believes the sate was trying to discredit her by accusations of bias and irresponsibility in order to bury the issues she was raising. The state officials pretended to be serious about investigating this matter and then attacked her professionally to destroy her findings.

She was especially concerned about the issue of slander and about the need to stop it before it hurt her elsewhere. She first called the deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, seven Levitas, a political appointee who had proven to be a disappointment to her. She had to threaten to go to the press to get him to speak to her. She demanded an emergency meeting or she would take leg...

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The Cell from Hell. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:57, March 19, 2019, from