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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Animal Parasitic Systematics
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Background Documents

Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory
- formerly the Parasite Biology, Epidemiology and Systematics Laboratory

Return to top Parasitology Capabilities & History

Parasitology currently lacks a cohesive systematics program. Capabilities are spread across 3 laboratories based on program or mission. During the 1990's there were extensive re-organizations within the parasitology which overall have tended to de-emphasize research in systematics. Within the parasitology GROUP:

  1. Immunology and Disease Resistance Laboratory focuses on host immunology, disease processes and some diagnostics. An SY has been involved in diagnostics of food-borne pathogens including Trichinella, and Taenia, and animal pathogens such as nematodes in ruminants.

  2. Animal Waste Pathogen Laboratory deals primarily with waterborne and foodborne pathogens such as protozoans and bacteria. Two SY's work on parasitic protozoans, emphasizing epidemiology, host and geographic distribution, and molecular diagnostics of Giardia and Crytosporidium.

  3. Parasite Biology, Epidemiology and Systematics Laboratory deals with protozoan and helminth parasites in animal health and food safety. In the PBESL are the 3 formally trained systematists of the former Biosystematics and National Parasite Collection Unit (dissolved in October 2000), two working on parasitic nematodes in ruminants, and a molecular systematist in food safety who conducts research on tissue cyst forming coccidia. Two other SY's work on epidemiology and control of either enteric or tissue cyst forming coccidia, with occasional forays into taxonomy. The US National Parasite Collection is held in the PBESL.

Return to top US National Parasite Collection

History: Founded 1892. Combines USDA and USNM Collections.

Holdings: Accessions (as of year 2002): 110,000 lots (in excess of 20-30 million individual specimens)

  • Types: 12,500 lots
  • Holotypes: 4,500 (including 551 Syntypes)
  • Paratypes: 5700 lots (including 636 Cotypes)
  • Other type materials include:
    • 200 phototypes
    • 78 hapantotypes
    • 60 lectotypes
    • 36 neotypes

Annual New Accessions: Approximately 1500-2000 new lots (excluding orphaned collections).

Annual National & International Loans: 600-1,000 requests for materials.

Uncatalogued materials: about 60,000 unaccessioned lots representing materials from significant but orphaned private and academic collections.

Other considerations:
  • There are no provisions for archiving collections from surveys for protozoan parasites (frozen banks of specimens), or tissue and histological materials from protozoans in the USNPC.
  • Facilities for acquisition, curation, databasing of frozen tissue or specimens collections are lacking.

Location: Building 1180 BARC.

  • Original building constructed in 1936.
  • Houses USNPC, laboratories and offices for Biosystematic Parasitology, and the Immunology and Disease Resistance Laboratory.
  • No facilities available for expansion.
  • Environmental controls in collections area are inadequate relative to temperature and humidity.
  • Wet (ethanol/formalin) specimens co-located with extensive slide collections.
  • Storage is on open compactors, wet specimens are not in environmentally controlled cabinets.

Fire suppression: Fenwal neutral gas system (hydrofluorpropane). Alarm system and intrusion system linked to BARC Security and local Fire Department.

Literature Collections:
  • 4,000 volumes extending to the 18th century, covering all aspects of systematic parasitology and taxonomy.
  • Complete series of major research journals.
  • Reprints include about 60,000 separate papers.

Return to top Critical Needs:

  1. staffing for curation and informatics/databasing
  2. staffing for molecular systematics
  3. staffing for comparative morphological or traditional specimens-based approaches
  4. facilities rehabilitation, including collections and laboratory support.

Return to top Background

The USNPC, a national and international resource for systematic, taxonomic, diagnostic ecological and epidemiological research in parasitology has been continuously maintained by the USDA for over 100 years. The USNPC has served as a critical resource for all aspects of parasitology in North America and globally, and provides the foundation for all programs within the ARS and elsewhere that deal with the systematics and taxonomy of agriculturally and economically significant helminth and protozoan parasites. The scope and depth of the Collection are unparalleled in North America. A primary role of the USNPC is acquisition, curation, and long-term maintenance of the specimens-based collections; and development and expansion of the collections database as an irreplaceable national archive. The specimen collection is linked to extensive documentation for host occurrence, geographic range, and other core data with which to assess the current and historical distribution of parasites and pathogens with a database accessed via the internet (http://ars.usda.gov/ba/anri/apdl).

A uniquely federal role is served as a center for diagnostics, identification and dissemination of information. Parasitologists in the ARS and others working in veterinary, medical and wildlife parasitology have access to the necessary specimens and database to conduct studies on the identification, classification and distribution of parasitic helminths and protozoans. The specimens collections, accumulated over 150 years, are an historical baseline and resource for biodiversity research globally. The Collection is the foundation for proactive programs, prediction and prevention with respect to parasites and pathogens that pose risks to the health of animals, humans and the environment. A vision for the USNPC focuses on these issues- Serving society through biodiversity discovery and exploration, systematics, predictive classifications and interactive information systems for parasites that contribute to identification of new and emerging threats to animal health, food safety and the environment.

Although a core number of museum and institutional collections have been vital for the development of parasitology in North America, there has been a relatively limited presence in the broader museum community for systematists and taxonomists focusing on parasitic taxa. Additionally, in North America there has not been a long standing tradition for support and development of museum collections, resources, and curatorial positions for parasitology on a scale evident for programs focusing on many free-living invertebrate and vertebrate groups. Parasitology has generally not been a factor in the development or programs of most major natural history museums, and the discipline tended to develop along a divergent track to become dominated by private or personal collections. Over time, and particularly in the last 25 years, this dispersed infrastructure has contributed to an incremental erosion of our systematics knowledge and expertise by attrition. Further, the tradition of often closely held, large personal collections has limited communication, progress and growth of a cohesive systematics community, and has now exacerbated the challenge to provide curatorial services and databasing for an increasing number of significant orphan collections. Only four major repositories or specimens-based collections of zooparasites now exist in North America, 3 serving endoparasites, and one focusing on arthropod ectoparasites and a critical mass for research infrastructure diminishes annually.


Last Modified: 9/6/2006
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