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Science Square (Issue 91)
Jan 1, 2013

Bats are the only mammals that are able to fly and they make up almost one quarter of all mammal species on earth. These amazing creatures are free from most diseases and live exceptionally longer when compared to other mammals of similar size. Scientists recently analyzed the DNA sequences of two different bat species, the Black Flying Fox and the David’s Myotis, to get an insight into the disease-resistance and longevity of bats. Bats are known to carry many deadly viruses including Ebola and SARS, but interestingly they never develop diseases from these viruses. Analysis of DNA sequences of two distant bat species revealed that bats were missing cytokine storm genes that trigger extreme and fatal immune reactions to some infections in other organisms. Cytokine storms are often triggered by the host’s immune system in response to certain infections and they end up not only killing the infecting viruses but also the organism’s own cells. Since bats don’t have the cytokine storm mechanism, they seem to handle many infections or diseases more rapidly and efficiently with a depressed inflammation response.

These findings might help researchers to design more effective drugs for various human infections by focusing on the minimization of the inflammation. Moreover, bats are capable of sustained long flights, as some bat species can fly more than 1,000 km in a single night. With such intense physical activity, cells often produce high levels of toxic (free radicals) that would usually damage DNA sequence.

This study also found that bats are equipped with a highly functional set of genes that mediates DNA repair in response to DNA damage, thus bats are protected from toxic cellular waste with this advanced mechanism. Aging, cancer and infectious diseases are the three major issues medicine is facing today and biological abilities granted to bats seem to provide important clues for us to discover new ways to combat these big health problems