SARASOTA, Fla. - Deep in the Florida Everglades, Dusty Crum -- known as the Wildman -- is on the hunt for pythons.
"We are going to save the wildlife in the Everglades, that’s my mission," he said.
The invasive snakes have been destroying the native wildlife for years. Now working with researchers, he believes there's another reason to hunt down the snakes: They may contain a key ingredient used for the COVID-19 vaccine.
"There's some really healing properties in the snake. If you go back in traditional medicine, they’ve been using python and python components for thousands of years," Dusty explained.
It's an oil called squalene. It's typically found in high quantities in the livers of sharks.
Scientists said the oil helps engage the immune system to get a good response from vaccines.
But it also raises concerns about the overfishing of sharks. Pythons may give researchers another option.
"A typical 12-foot python can make enough squalene for about 3,400 doses of vaccine. It's not as much as a shark can do, but it's much more sustainable," said Daryl Thompson of Global Research and Discover Group Sciences.
From his post in Winter Haven, Thompson said the research is being fast-tracked. They will present their findings through Operation Warp Speed to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
"By studying the metabolic effects, we are going to be able to look and determine a new way to make Squalene. We can create it out of oils or fats such as cholesterol," he said.
As pythons continue to plague the Everglades, Dusty's mission to stop them could take on a whole new meaning.
"We are taking a bad situation and making something good out of it. This has the potential to help heal a lot of people and potentially save a lot of lives," he added.