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Karen Osborn was supposed to be exploring hidden worlds in the Turks and Caicos, cataloguing the mysterious creatures that thrive in pools connected to the ocean by deep underwater caves. But instead of barcoding blind crustaceans on a trip she’s planned for six months, the marine biologist is stuck at home in Fairfax, Virginia. Osborn is one of roughly 800,000 US government employees who are legally barred from working, and are going without pay, during the federal shutdown that began on 22 December.