Durbin Highlights Critical Research Projects Threatened By Government Shutdown

Key Antibiotic Research Among Crucial Work Stalled At Peoria Ag Lab

PEORIA – As the government shutdown enters another week, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today discussed the impact the shutdown is having on the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research—also known as the Peoria Ag Lab.

“Here in Peoria President Trump’s shutdown impacts the lab’s employees who are not able to work and are not getting paid. This means important research that could have significant impacts on our health and on agriculture in Illinois—including preliminary testing building on a recent discovery at the lab that amplifies the effectiveness of antibiotics—has been put on hold,” Durbin said. “Senate Republicans should pass and the President should sign the House-passed bill to reopen our government, reopen our labs, and put federal employees back to work.”

The Peoria Ag Lab, which opened in 1940, is best known for its critical work to develop the technique to mass produce penicillin. The legacy of that discovery lives on today as the lab researches a new treatment that could help overpower antibiotic resistant bacteria. Each year, 2,000,000 Americans are sickened and 23,000 are killed by antibiotic resistance.

The Peoria Ag Lab is the largest of USDA’s 90 agriculture research centers in the country with 250 employees—including 80 PhD researchers. Only a handful of employees are still working at the lab during the shutdown, trying to preserve plants and other research specimens. They will not be reviewing any data or advancing any of the research projects. 

Twenty-five percent of the government has been shut down since funding ran out at midnight on Friday, December 21. In all, more than 8,000 federal workers in Illinois are not being paid during the shutdown. Nationally, more than 380,000 federal workers are furloughed and more than 420,000 essential federal workers are forced to work without pay. President Trump is seeking funding for a wall along the southern border of the U.S. in order to end the shutdown. Polls indicate a majority of Americans oppose the wall.

“The wall is a medieval response to a 21st Century challenge,” Durbin said. “Americans shouldn’t have to waste hard-earned tax dollars simply so President Trump can fulfill a campaign promise.”

The Peoria Ag Lab also conducts research in food safety, biorefining, plant genomics and genetic improvements, plant diseases, crop protection, and utilization of agricultural products. Previous key advancements include the discovery of Xantham—a thickening agent used in gum, salad dressing, and numerous other food products—and the development of soybeans into a successful row crop and a key part of Illinois’ economy.