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Baa, baa, blood test

hair_sheep.jpg

Score one for low-tech, high-impact interventions: The newest revolution in microbiology testing walks on four legs and says "baa."

It's the hair sheep, a less-hirsute version of the familiar woolly barnyard resident. Hair sheep make up only 10 percent of sheep worldwide, but they could play a big role in identifying global disease outbreaks, at least if Stanford pathologist Ellen Jo Baron, PhD, has any say in the matter.

Most microbiology labs use horse or sheep blood to make cultures for growing and identifying infectious microbes. But in the developing world, where woolly sheep and expensive horses are rare, lab techs have often resorted to using their own blood for cultures.

Now, Baron says, they have a better alternative - the hair sheep. Hair sheep blood works just as well as regular sheep blood in culture, she found in a recent study, and the animals are well-adapted for tropical climates. You can read more about the study here, or check out the paper in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

This isn't the first time Baron has gotten creative in the face of limited resources: I wrote about her adventures in microbiology training in the developing world last fall.

Photo by Ellen Jo Baron

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