Bats offer important clues for the treatment of COVID-19, scientists say.
The virus is believed to have originated in bats and then jumped to humans via an intermediate species, perhaps the anteater-like pangolin that is prized in China for its scales used in Chinese medicine as well as its meat.
In addition to SARS-CoV-2, bats have also been identified as a natural reservoir for other deadly viruses, such as Ebola and rabies, according to researchers from the University of Rochester.
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However, bats have long fascinated scientists because of their ability to resist viruses. “Although humans experience unwanted symptoms when infected with these pathogens, bats are remarkably capable of tolerating viruses and, in addition, live much longer than similarly sized terrestrial mammals,” say the University of Rochester researchers in a statement.
In a review article published in the journal Cell Metabolism, scientists examine why bats are apparently unaffected by viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, while discussing their unusual lifespan. “Generally, the lifespan of a species is correlated with its body mass; the smaller a species, the shorter its lifespan and vice versa ”, they explain in the press release. “However, many species of bats have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, which is impressive for their size. ”
The research began when the University of Rochester’s biology professors, Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov, were in Singapore in March before the COVID-19 travel ban. After the foreclosure of Singapore, the professors, who are married, were quarantined at the home of their colleague Brian Kennedy, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National University of Singapore. Kennedy co-wrote the paper with Gorbunova and Seluanov during their quarantine.
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“With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that kills the patient, even more than the virus itself,” says Gorbunova. “The human immune system works like this: once we are infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight the infection, but it can also be a bad response because our bodies overreact to the threat. ”
Bats have, however, developed “specific mechanisms that reduce viral replication and also reduce the immune response to a virus,” the researchers said. As a result, the bats’ immune systems control the viruses but do not cause “a strong inflammatory response,” the scientists said.
Theft may offer a clue. “Bats are the only mammals capable of flying, which requires adapting to rapid increases in body temperature, sudden increases in metabolism and molecular damage,” said the scientists. “These adaptations can also help with resistance to disease. ”
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In addition, bats live together in large, dense colonies where pathogens and viruses can be easily transmitted. “Bats are constantly exposed to viruses,” said Seluanov, in the statement. “They always fly away and bring something new to the cave or the nest, and they transfer the virus because they live so close to each other.”
According to the researchers, this means that their immune system is constantly in an “arms race” with pathogens. “Usually the most powerful engine for new traits in evolution is an arms race with pathogens,” said Gorbunova. “Managing all these viruses can shape the immunity and longevity of bats.”
This, according to the researchers, is not an invitation “for humans to throw off their masks and gather in restaurants and cinemas”. Scientists note that evolution takes place over thousands of years, not months.
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It is only in modern history that the majority of the human population has started living in the immediate vicinity of cities, they explain, also citing changes in mobility and travel around the world. “While humans develop social habits that are parallel to those of bats, we have not yet developed the sophisticated mechanisms of bats to fight viruses as they emerge and spread rapidly,” say -they. One possible result of this is that our bodies experience more inflammation than bats, according to Gorbunova.
Aging also appears to be a factor in the human response to COVID-19, they explain.
In this context, the analysis of the immune systems of bats could provide new targets for human therapies to fight against diseases and aging, according to the researchers. “For example, bats have mutated or completely eliminated several genes involved in inflammation; scientists can develop drugs to inhibit these genes in humans, “they said in the statement. University of Rochester professors hope to launch a new research program aimed at achieving this goal.
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“Humans have two possible strategies if we are to prevent inflammation, live longer and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” said Gorbunova. “One would be not to be exposed to viruses, but it is not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat. ”
In another project, researchers recently announced the discovery of six new coronaviruses in bats in Myanmar.
Another research effort has found seven new strains of coronavirus in bats living in a cave in Gabon, Africa, according to reports.
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As of Monday morning, more than 12.9 million cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed worldwide, including more than 3.3 million in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The disease has caused at least 569,878 deaths worldwide, including at least 135,219 in the United States.
Fox News Chris Ciaccia, Frank Miles and the Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers