By probing the life cycles of parasites, Jitender Dubey’s research during the past 40 years has been instrumental in saving lives, curbing disabilities in newborn infants and greatly reducing the number of horses, cattle and lambs killed each year by infectious diseases.
Dubey, a parasitologist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Maryland, is being honored today as a finalist for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, also known as the “Sammies.” The Sammies are given each year to federal employees who have distinguished themselves by making our country safer, healthier and stronger.
He is credited with discovering that Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis disease, is spread by cats that prey on infected birds, mice and other animals. Cats excrete a form of the parasite that can survive outdoors for years. Pigs, sheep and goats are infected when they ingest contaminated feed and water. People are infected by eating undercooked, infected meat, and pregnant women may be exposed by touching their mouths after changing a cat litter box, or while gardening in contaminated soils. Pregnant women can pass the disease to their offspring, causing blindness and other serious birth defects in infants.
Dubey’s research is credited with helping to cut the prevalence of T. gondii by 50% over the past 30 years in the United States and Europe. His work is why cat litter packaging advises pregnant women to avoid changing litter boxes themselves, and to have litter boxes changed daily. He also showed that freezing meat overnight before consumption effectively kills T. gondii, a widely used guideline that has curbed transmission.
His research on another parasite, Neospora caninum, also led to practices that have saved billions of dollars a year in losses by preventing abortions in cattle caused by the parasite. Neosporosis, the disease caused by the parasite, was responsible for the demise of many dairies. His research also led to the discovery of Sarcocystis neurona, the most common cause of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, and he has been instrumental in developing diagnostic tests and advocating for effective controls.
Dubey has published more than 1,400 research papers, collaborated with more than 600 scientists worldwide and has written several authoritative books, including a diagnostic manual widely consulted by researchers and medical personnel. He also has trained numerous researchers and been a key source over the years for researchers, veterinarians, medical personnel, food producers and public health authorities. He was inducted into ARS’s Science Hall of Fame in 2010.