Newly discovered bats are related to those associated with the pandemic
The new species of bats were announced in a study published Wednesday in a special issue of the journal ZooKeys, devoted to the pandemic.
Identifying and better understanding individual bat species is crucial to providing an information base related to the spread of diseases like Covid-19.
Learning more about bats, the benefits they offer, and how they transport and transmit disease to humans, is essential to protecting bats and humans, the researchers said. Although much attention is currently focused on bats as vectors of disease, they also pollinate crops, disperse seeds and eat insects such as mosquitoes.
But bats remain largely mysterious to us. Researchers estimate that we have only identified 25% of all bat species in the past 15 years. They are difficult to locate and study, so we lack information on their place of residence, their evolution and their real role in the world around them.
“Bats are small, nocturnal and use high frequency sound and smell to identify their species compared to other bats,” Bruce Patterson, lead author of the study and curator Macarthur, said in an email. mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago. “Because we are tall, daytime and dependent on vision (and low frequency sounds), we cannot read their signals very precisely. The true diversity of bats has really opened up in the past 25 years with DNA sequence and ultrasonic recording technology, which helps us to recognize the signals that bats use. “
The new bat species have been discovered largely on the basis of museum specimens that have been collected in Africa over the past decades.
Leaf-nosed bats live in Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but species in Africa have not been studied as much because the areas where they live are inaccessible. They get their name from unique skin flaps on their noses that act as a radar to help them catch insects and direct their signals to others.
Researchers used DNA to study museum specimens of leaf-nosed bats and realized that while some of them appeared very similar to known species, they were genetically different.
“The most surprising thing to me about this study is that we have not been able to find much genetic support for recognized species for a long time, and that we have found sharp differences within what had been considered as one species, “said Patterson.
Prepare for possible virus vectors
The new species has not yet been named. And the researchers want to continue their work by looking for models in their anatomy, echolocation calls and the parasites they carry.
“None of these leaf-nosed bats carry a problematic disease today, but we don’t know it will always be. And we don’t even know the number of species that exist”, a said Terry Demos, study co-author and post-doctoral researcher in Patterson’s laboratory, in a statement.
“Bats with coronaviruses – not the strain that affects humans right now, but it is certainly not the last time that a virus will be transmitted from wild mammals to humans. have a better understanding of what these bats are, we will be better prepared if that happens. “
Patterson agreed. “With Covid-19, we have a virus that is unleashed in the human population,” he said. “He hails from a horseshoe bat in China. There are 25 or 30 species of horseshoe bats in China, and no one can determine which one was involved. We owe it to ourselves to know more about them and their loved ones. “
Other viruses and diseases contracted by humans have been associated with bats. Bats may carry viruses due to their social nature, rather than being magnets of dirty viruses.
“All organisms have viruses. The roses in your garden have viruses,” said Patterson. “We worry about viruses when it comes to flu and pandemics, but viruses are part of nature and go back as far as we do. And many viruses are harmless. Because [bats] snuggle up and take care of each other, it doesn’t take long for a pathogen to spread from one end of the colony to the other. “
And bats can also fly, which makes them incredibly strong – which probably makes them carriers of disease rather than prone to being sick themselves. Bats have a high metabolism, self-repairing DNA and a strong immune system.
“Flying is the most energetically expensive way to get around. If you skin a bat, it looks like Mighty Mouse, they have almost no gut, they are all shoulder and chest muscles. They are incredible athletes, “said Patterson.
The human factor
Humans come into contact with bats by destroying their habitats, hunting them and eating bat meat. Consumption of bat meat occurs in Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, said Patterson.
“Unless you are trying to search for bats, whether to harass or kill them, it is very, very unlikely to infect you,” said Demos.
The guano bat, or poop, is considered an excellent fertilizer, so it is extracted from caves. This can disrupt the millions of bats in a single cave colony, said Patterson.
Bats can also ingest pesticides and environmental toxins when they eat hundreds of insects every night. And people “react to viral fears” by deliberately attacking bat habitats, said Patterson.
Harming bats will not reduce the disease, but a better understanding of bats could do it.
“These bats have a place in nature and perform essential ecological functions, and we cannot let our terror of Covid cause us to separate natural ecological systems,” said Patterson.
Patterson hopes this moment of interest will lead to more research on bats, as well as a clearer picture of how the coronavirus passed from bats to humans.
“In addition to their many services to humanity, we know that bats carry a significant number of viruses,” said Patterson. “A species of bat can only carry the viruses to which it has been exposed, and only to the extent that its range limits. So understanding who is there and where it lives is a road map for ecological connections. who are currently eluding us to determine who was transporting SRV coV-2 to the wild. “