Meet the Govie Fighting Parasitic Diseases

You probably didn’t know that the federal government is pretty heavily involved with all of the barbecue you are going to eat this summer. As you bite into a juicy burger at a summer picnic you also probably aren’t thinking about all of the work that goes into ensuring that the meat in your burger is parasite free. However, parasitic infections can occur relatively easily when human and animals are exposed to contaminated soil, water, or food, or when people consume undercooked meat containing the parasite.

Infection from these parasites can lead to mental retardation, blindness, compromised immune systems and a host of other debilitating symptoms. Therefore, it is especially important that researchers study food-born parasites and work to ensure that humans are not ingesting them.

Jitender Dubey, Senior Scientist with the Agriculture Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sat down with Christopher Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to talk about how he has spent his career developing groundbreaking work around the parasite Toxoplasma gondii that has saved thousands of human and livestock lives.

Dubey is currently a finalist in the Career Achievement category for the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America Medals, or the SAMMIES. Those are awards that recognize all the awesome people fostering innovation in the public sector.

While Dubey has spent his career learning how to counter Toxoplasma gondii, he quickly explained that there is no cure to the parasite. As a result, his main focus has been on food safety. “For example, we have found that freeing meat in regular freezer can kill the parasite without affecting the taste of the meat,” he said. This is important for meat that is going to be used for human and livestock consumption to ensure that the infection is minimized for both groups.

The issue of food safety hits particularly close to home for Dubey because he was raised on a farm and has always had a love of animals. His initial studies focused on veterinary medicine and then he eventually got into public health, with his career culminating in a marriage between his two passions.

At this point, you may be wondering why the federal government is so heavily involved with researching parasites. Dubey explained that food safety is really a public interest issue. “Commercial companies don’t really have an interest because they are focused on commercial products and not food safety themselves,” he said. “So a lot of food safety really has to be done at the federal level because you can perform long term research and answer the questions you have.”

Additionally, Dubey said that government is particularly rewarding because it is removed from the politics that permeates other aspects of governments. “We are able to focus totally on research and because of that I am an example of a very successful researcher,” he said. He also emphasized that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn’t joined together his two passions into one that he loves.

Dubey concluded by reminding us to follow our passion, no matter what it is. “Pursue a goal you really want to be dedicated to,” he said. “Because there will be moments when you have second thoughts about it and if you choose wisely you will be able to pursue it wholeheartedly.”

Hooked on the cool stories of your federal government’s undercover heroes? Check out the other SAMMIE finalists and follow their stories each week here.

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