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Nerve Agents: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Scientific American

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are in a critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, UK, following exposure to an unknown nerve agent. Several locations in the city have been cordoned off and decontaminated since the pair were found unconscious on a park bench on March 5. But what are nerve agents exactly and how do they affect the body?

The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them.

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