Scientists believe the genes of certain long-living and virus resistant bats may provide clues to the future treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancer in humans.

Scientists believe the genes of long-living and virus resistant bats may provide clues to the future treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancer in humans.

David's MyotisPublished in the January 2013 edition of Science, the research is said to shed light on genetic changes associated with the evolution of bat’s flight and their relatively long life, while paving the way towards understanding how wild bats carry and disseminate deadly human viruses.

As part of their research into bats and the viruses they harbour, researchers at CSIRO (Australia’s national science research agency) and the Beijing Genome Institute led a team sequencing the genomes of two bat species – an Australian mega bat, the black flying fox, and a Chinese micro bat, David’s myotis.

The teams then compared the bat genomes to the genomes of eight other mammals, including humans, to find similarities and differences.

Flying FoxChris Cowled, post-doctoral fellow at CSIRO’s Australian animal health laboratory, said: “A deeper understanding of these evolutionary adaptations in bats may lead to better treatments for human diseases, and may eventually enable us to predict or perhaps even prevent outbreaks of emerging bat viruses.

Bats are a natural reservoir for several lethal viruses, such as Hendra, Ebola and SARS, but they often don’t succumb to disease from these viruses. They’re also the only mammal that can fly, and they live a long time compared to animals similar in size.

“Flying is a very energy intensive activity that produces toxic by-products but we can see that bats have some novel genes to deal with these toxins.”

Some of these genes, including P53, are implicated in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA.

Dr Cowled explained: “What we found intriguing was that some of these genes also have secondary roles in the immune system. We’re proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spill over effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like ageing and cancer.”

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