Science Square

  • Issue 91 / January - February 2013

    Science Square

    Louia Cunningnam

    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


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