Scientists were angered and dumbfounded recently when the U.S. government, under pressure from animal rights activists, shut down the world’s leading hub for the study of Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite infects more than 1 billion people globally, causing death, blindness, and birth defects—and killing, through food-borne transmission, some 750 Americans each year. The activists objected to the lab’s use and later sacrifice of cats, the only animal in which T. gondii completes the sexual stages of its life cycle. Now, as The Atlantic reports, one of the very researchers who was distressed about the lab’s closure has published on the preprint server bioRxiv what looks like a game-changing breakthrough. Laura Knoll of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and her co-authors have worked out a method to get the parasite to reproduce in laboratory mice, very possibly obviating the need for extensive cat use going forward. The paper’s reviewers at a journal where it’s expected to be published called the findings “truly remarkable,” “transformative,” and “a key breakthrough.”
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