Nine-banded Armadillo Dasypus novemcinctus
Researchers have used armadillos in leprosy research and to investigate multiple births.
Eleonor Storrs’ discovered in the late 1960s that nine-banded armadillos were susceptible to leprosy.
The Leprosy bacterium thrives in lower body temperatures, in humans, it grows in the extremities such as ears and fingers, but armadillos have a low body temperature of around 33°C – lower than in humans and other mammals – which means that the disease penetrates deeper and affects the organs. The armadillo became the perfect natural incubator to grow large quantities of Mycobacterium leprae to study the disease, test drugs and look for a vaccine.
Vaccines based on antigens from M.Leprae are still undergoing trials, most recently in India. The vaccine, based on Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP), will be administered as a preventive measure for people living in close contact with those already infected by the leprosy bacteria.
Armadillos are also specifically useful in research because of their peculiar reproduction pattern – they give birth to four genetically identical offspring.
Because of this, researchers have worked with armadillos to study reproduction in the hopes of understanding more about multiple births. Identical litter mates are also great models for studying different drugs or treatments, because any differences seen are likely due to the experimental treatment instead of genetic differences.