In DepthInfectious Disease

Closure of U.S. Toxoplasma lab draws ire

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Science  12 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 109
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6436.109

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An abrupt decision last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to close down its research on a parasite that is the country's second-leading food-borne killer has left scientists who work with Toxoplasma gondii bewildered and angry. They say that the $625,000 research program, housed at a USDA lab in Beltsville, Maryland, is a vital resource for scientists in the United States and abroad as they try to understand the parasite's biology, stop its transmission in food and water, and develop a vaccine. But on 2 April, after months of protests from animal welfare activists, USDA declared that the 37-year-old program had "reached its maturity" and "achieved" its goals. The Washington, D.C., advocacy group White Coat Waste Project had protested the lab's killing of dozens of cats each year. It used kittens to collect from their feces a form of the parasite that is needed for research and that is only produced in cats. This year, the group persuaded 61 members of Congress to co-sponsor the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act.