Throughout the last 37 years, a small research laboratory located in Beltsville, Maryland, has been a leading facility for researchers working on Toxoplasma gondii.It is a parasite that infects over one billion people worldwide, causing death, blindness and birth defects (mostly in children) in extreme cases. The facility is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - and the institution has recently announced that the laboratory is to be closed down.
The laboratory has fallen victim to pressure exerted by animal welfare activists and members of the Congress being concerned over the involvement of cats - the only animals where T. gondii finishes a certain stage of their life cycle - in activities conducted there. All of a sudden, USDA announced it was closing down the laboratory, stating that the program that consumes USD 625,000 a year had reached its maturity.
David Sibley, a Toxoplasma researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, says that the laboratory has contributed a few crucial questions to the matter over the last decade. A blood test that can provide information pertaining to parasite control strategies is one of the things that were developed owing to the lab. The test indicates if a given case of infection occurred due to having eaten undercooked meat or through consuming parasite oocysts by cats.
Researchers are of the opinion that shutting down the laboratory will undermine efforts aimed at combating the devastating parasite that is a leading global cause of blindness and makes about 190,000 children born with defects.