For the first time, “raw” genetic material reveals my …
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Groundbreaking study sheds light on why bats fly in labs that advance medical understanding.
Among mammals, bats are particularly known for their exceptional adaptations to their environment: these characteristics include their remarkable longevity for such small species, their ability to navigate at night thanks to sound, and their advanced capacity for sensory perception.
Bats are also established carriers of various strains of coronavirus – but they don’t seem to get sick. Why?
Now we may have new insight into the immune system of bats and how mankind might, in fact, benefit from these often derided flying mammals, according to one. new study published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Reporting “high quality” bat genomes in the journal Nature, a global research consortium, including the Max Planck Institute, has identified molecular mechanisms that “may have contributed to the exceptional immunity of bats… to viral infections”.
“For the first time ever, the raw genetic material that encodes bats’ unique adaptations and superpowers, such as the ability to fly, use sound to move effortlessly in total darkness, survive and to tolerate deadly diseases, to resist aging and cancer has been fully disclosed and published, ”the institute said in a statement.
The researchers not only found evidence of how bats select (and lose) genes involved in immunity; but also how they can develop certain antiviral genes: in this case, the APOBEC3 genes.
“In addition, genomic integrations of various viruses reveal the historic tolerance of bats to viral infections,” according to the findings of the Bat1K consortium.
The consortium is a scientific collective “devoted to the sequencing of the genomes of each of the 1,421 living bat species,” the statement said.
“He generated and analyzed six very precise bat genomes that are 10 times more complete than any bat genome published to date, in order to discover the unique characteristics of bats,” the statement added. .
“These genomes are the tools needed to identify the genetic solutions developed in bats that could ultimately be harnessed to alleviate aging and human disease,” said Emma Teeling of University College Dublin, a lead institution of the study.
The bat equals the sequencing of the human genome
The team also showed that bat genomes are a valuable time capsule, containing fossilized viruses as clues that their hosts have survived past infections. These genomes also suggest exceptional diversity.
“Our genome analyzes revealed changes in auditory genes that may contribute to echolocation, which bats use to hunt and navigate in total darkness. In addition, we found expansion of antiviral genes, a unique selection of immune genes, and loss of genes involved in inflammation in bats, ”said Michael Hiller, lead author of the Institute. “These changes may contribute to the exceptional immunity of bats and indicate their tolerance to coronaviruses. ”
The consortium said it has harnessed cutting-edge technology to generate the genomes, in turn producing new methods for sequencing and identifying bat DNA.
“Using the latest DNA sequencing technology and new computational methods for this data, we have 96-99% of each bat genome in chromosome-level reconstructions – a similar unprecedented quality, by example, to the current benchmark of the human genome which is the result of more than a decade of intensive “finishing” efforts, ”said lead author Eugene Myers, also of the Institute.
“As such, these bat genomes provide a superb basis for experimentation and evolutionary studies of the fascinating abilities and physiological properties of bats,” he added.
Bats are related to pangolins
Among other results, the consortium’s analyzes shed light on the deep past of bats by specifying their place in the evolutionary branch of mammals carrying placentas.
Previously, the question of where bats were on the mammalian tree of life had not been resolved.
Now the team has found the most convincing evidence to date that bats are closely related to the Ferreuungulata group. This includes carnivores, including dogs, cats, and seals, as well as pangolins, whales, and hoofed mammals. To arrive at these results, they compared bats to 42 other mammals and used complete molecular data sets, among other things.
The study focused on the velvety free-tailed bat (mastiff hound), bigger bat (Myotis myotis), pale bat (Phyllostomus discolor), Kuhl’s pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), big horseshoe bat (Horseshoe Bat ferrumequinum) and the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus).
The researchers recommended that the article serve as a “rich resource to better understand the genomic basis of bat adaptations.”
Superheroes to probe the coronavirus
The study was submitted to Nature in October 2019 and therefore was not initially intended to investigate human responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the many strains of coronavirus.
However, the consortium pointed out that their “genomes could help study how bats tolerate coronavirus infections, which could, in the future, give rise to approaches to increase the human survival capacity to diseases. diseases such as Covid-19 ”.
Basically, research like this adds to the case for conserving these advanced flying labs for the remarkable evolutionary medical secrets they hold.
It also helps signify a break for bats, which are consistently associated with a myriad of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
In recent months, for example, several papers attributed the origins of SARS-CoV-2 to zoonotic transfer from an animal, which can occur in bats and then spread into a pangolin.
“This is just the start. The rest [plus/minus] 1,400 living bat species exhibit incredible diversity in terms of ecology, longevity, sensory perception and immunology, and many questions remain regarding the genomic basis of these spectacular characteristics, ”the statement said.
“Bat1K will answer these questions as more and more exquisite bat genomes are sequenced, further uncovering the genetic basis for rare and wonderful bat superpowers.” DM
The full article, “Six Reference Quality Genomes Reveal Evolution of Bat Adaptations,” is published in Nature and available here.