Posts Tagged Bats

Nova: Bat Superpowers

Bats are generally given a bad reputation in our popular culture – associated with evil and implicated in deadly epidemics such as COVID-19. This documentary, however, will encourage people to think differently about bats.


Common Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) flying in Israel

There are around 1421 living bat species that exhibit an incredible diversity in ecology, longevity, sensory perception and immunology. Bats (mammals like us) have superpowers.

Can we learn from bats and harness those powers in humans? Numerous questions still remain regarding the genomic basis of these spectacular features but scientists are making progress. This documentary introduces us to these scientists and their work. Viewers are taken on a journey from caves in Thailand and Texas to labs around the globe.

Bat1K is one group of scientists we are introduced to. They are sequencing bat genomes, further uncovering the genetic basis of bats’ rare and wonderful superpowers.

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, and the Center for Systems Biology, Dresden, Senior Author, says: “Our genome scans revealed changes in hearing genes, that may contribute to echolocation, which bats use to hunt and navigate in complete darkness. Furthermore, we found expansions of anti-viral genes, unique selection on immune genes, and loss of genes involved in inflammation in bats. These changes may contribute to bats’ exceptional immunity and points to their tolerance of coronaviruses.

Bat1K, a global consortium of scientists dedicated to sequencing the genomes of every one of the 1421 living bat species, has generated and analyzed six highly accurate bat genomes that are ten times more complete than any bat genome published to date, in order to begin to uncover bats’ unique traits.

The hope is that ultimately, studying bats will help researchers understand the genetic basis of longevity, a better immune system and other key factors. Let’s just think about longevity for a moment.

Humans are considered relatively long-lived animals, tending to live about four times longer than most other mammals when adjusted for size. But bats can far exceed that. Some species can live 40 years – eight times longer than similarly sized mammals — which is why scientists have long sought to understand bats as a model for healthy aging. If we lived as long as bats, adjusted for size, we could live 240 years.

Longevity is just one way, as this documentary points out, that the study of bats might help us. It’s a tantalising prospect.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Picture Credit: Original photo: אורן פלס Oren Peles Derivative work: User: MathKnight, CC BY 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

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