How a Government Shutdown Screws Up Scientific Research


The U.S. is in the middle of a government
shutdown – and if it doesn’t end soon it will be the longest in history. But to be clear this is a “partial” shutdown
which means that 75% of the government was approved for funding in the new year and the
rest got caught up in the demands from President Donald Trump to build a wall on the southern
border for over 5 billion dollars. Since the shutdown began at the end of December
2018, it has affected thousands of scientists and made lasting impacts on the scientific
community. Even for a partial shutdown we’re looking
at 9 government departments affected with nearly four hundred thousand federal employees
furloughed, meaning they’ve been put on leave without pay. Only those deemed “essential” are left
to be part of the skeleton workforce that operate the facilities, also without pay. And scientific communities are taking a toll. The agencies affected include NASA, NOAA,
the National Science Foundation, the , and the National Parks Service, just to name a
few. These are some of the biggest funders of grants
and projects across the country. Without government money coming to fund the
research, thousands of scientists are now out of pay, out of work, and losing valuable
information from their labs.And the impact is being felt outside government grounds as
well. Even if you’re not a federal employee, but
your research is funded by one of the federal science powerhouses, your progress is still
affected. And some experiments can’t just be put on
pause. Ongoing research, like the state of our ecosystem
is constantly collected and analyzed. Science magazine reported about an entomologist
at Michigan State University who’s endangered bumble bees are just sitting in a fridge in
his lab waiting to be shipped to the USDA laboratories. But they’re closed. He explains that this delay could cost him
a whole a whole year of progress. At SFSU, William Chadwick, works as a research
technician in cellular molecular biology, analyzing and manipulating yeast cells; specifically
their waste removal organelle called the vacuole. Humans have organelles in their cells called
lysosomes that have the same function of the vacuole. So, by looking at mutated yeast strands, Chadwick
can find correlations back to humans, even sometimes helping progress research with disease. “So essentially what happens in the example
that I always give called Batten disease. It’s an infantile disease that usually kills
the children. There are too many lysosomes because they
can’t break things down and so their body can’t break down things it needs to [..] we
found a way to recover that gene that creates Batten’s disease. It’s called BTM1… So if we can fix that disease that occurs
in yeast is the idea that we can use that same gene to create a gene therapy for people
suffering from Batten disease. “
BUT his lab can’t get their contacts from the National Science Foundation to help them
proceed to next steps, so they’ll be pushed 6 months behind. What does a 6 month delay mean?
“and if labs can’t access research or access funding, then it just prevents or pushes back
the development of a cure. So if a child who would have had a cure in
six months doesn’t for another five years and passes between those two points[..], that’s
just kind of the easiest way to think of how it affects people and funding of research
and science and society in general.” And just because you’re not a scientist
or don’t have a disease doesn’t mean you’re off the hook either. Researchers collect a lot of critical data
that the average person doesn’t think about and, we use it to power our everyday lives,
like weather forecasts for example. During the shutdown, national weather forecasts
are going to be worse because there aren’t enough people to maintain and repair malfunctioning
programs. It may seem trivial, but winter is primetime
for updates to hurricane models and they use this time to train emergency managers for
the next storm season. But that’s at a halt. The government shutdown is also having a ripple
effect on an international level. At the beginning of January, NASA completed
a flyby to the most distant object we’ve ever visited in history, and yet, they couldn’t
share their accomplishment with fellow peers. It’s estimated that one thousand federal
employees couldn’t attend the American Astronomical Society or American Meteorological Society
conferences to share and exchange knowledge from the year. Some scientists say the U.S. absence is not
only a missed chance to learn, but also a possible turning point for the U.S. to fall
behind in scientific research. The list goes on and on about the countless
impacts this partial government shutdown has caused. And every day it progresses, the impacts reach
more people and they get worse. With no end in sight, we can only hope that
it’ll be over quickly and we can bounce back better than before. What do you think about all of this? Tell us down below and if you’ve ever wondered
how scientists can work together even when they’re countries don’t, watch this video
here. Don’t forget to subscribe, thanks for watching
I’ll see you next time on Seeker.