Halting Progress

Government Shutdown Could Have Lasting Impacts on Scientific Progress

"It's like telling a doctor you can't go in and see your patients."

1. 18. 19 by Dan Robitzski
Philippe Delavie/Jacqui/Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Philippe Delavie/Jacqui/Tag Hartman-Simkins

Hungry Bugs

On Dec. 22, the U.S. government shut down. Since then, government-funded biologists have been struggling to feed and tend to the organisms — insects, plants, microbes — that they study.

All the while, the scientists are navigating the fine line between doing the bare minimum to keep their subjects alive and furthering their research, which is technically banned by federal law, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Lost Knowledge

Scientists who spoke to the LA Times said that their work and that of other scientists could be set back for months or even years as a result of the shutdown. Experiments that were set in motion before the shutdown began can’t just be paused.

“It’s like telling a doctor you can’t go in and see your patients,” Victor Raboy, a retired USDA plant geneticist, told the LA Times.


Research organisms, some of which are irreplaceable genetic hybrids, still need to eat and will continue to grow, reproduce, and die. That means time-sensitive research may be totally ruined as scientists miss their chance to study or cultivate a particular generation.

“We are losing lots of research,” Ashley Maness, president of a chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the LA Times.

Risky Business

Aside from being a nuisance for furloughed scientists, interrupting this research has grave real-world repercussions. Some of the government scientists who spoke to the LA Times studied things like stopping the spread of Zika virus, and others were investigating ways to protect vulnerable crops from hungry pests.

With no end to the government shutdown in sight, things will only get more difficult for scientists and other government employees who have now missed nearly a month’s worth of pay. The scientific community will feel reverberations of the shutdown’s impact for years to come.


READ MORE: As shutdown drags on, scientists scramble to keep insects, plants and microbes alive [Los Angeles Times]

More on the shutdown: Gov Shutdown Means 95 Percent of NASA Employees Aren’t At Work

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