Why do bats carry so many diseases?
Bats are one of the most diverse groups of mammals in the world, after rodents. There are more than 1400 species of flying mammals, ranging from those three centimeters long to bats with a wingspan of up to 1.8 meters.
They have adapted to live in a range of natural and man-made environments around the world, and part of their success relies on their ability to fly.
This requires them to have a high metabolic rate up to five times that of any other mammal. Generally, animals with higher metabolic rates tend to have shorter lives than those with higher rates, suggesting that bats shouldn’t live very long.
However, bats are exceptionally long-lived. Compared to other mammals of similar size, they live about 2.6 times longer. Although the exact reasons for this are uncertain, it is thought to result at least in part from their immune system and their ability to repair cellular damage.
Professor Emma Teeling, a zoologist and geneticist from University College Dublin, said: ‘Bats have incredible immune systems, very low cancer rates and have developed new ways to slow aging and fight cancer. virus.
“This means there is huge potential to learn how we can improve human health by studying bat genomes and their immune systems. Digitization projects like this give us a huge amount of data to work on, providing huge opportunities for future research.
Their incredible immune systems are also believed to enable them to survive a range of infections that can prove fatal in humans, such as Ebola, MERS and SARS. This is thought to result from their strong immune defenses, as well as a greater ability to tolerate these diseases.
Rather than succumbing, bats instead act as vectors of these infections and carry the highest proportion of zoonotic diseases, which can jump from species to species, of any mammal.
While bat research has been ongoing for many years, it has been given an added boost by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus responsible turning out to be about 95% similar to a bat coronavirus that infects the intermediate horseshoe bat.
With COVID-19 capable of jumping from animals to humans and back, institutions across Europe have come together to release data from over 20,000 bats held in their collections to help predict how and where future pandemics could emerge and spread.