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UK Bats Appear to be Immune to Deadly White Nose Syndrome

Aug 09, 2013 01:40 PM EDT
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The deadly fungus responsible for inflicting white nose syndrome (WNS) in bat populations across North America has been reported in the UK for the first time, but bats there seem to be resistant to the killer fungus.

The fungus was found on a live bat and in environmental samples taken from a number of sites.

"Unlike in North America, there has been no observed mass die-off of bats, which could indicate UK bats may be resistant to the fungus," the UK-based Bat Conservation Trust said in a statement.

WNS is caused by the fungus Psuedogymnoascus destructans (recently renamed from Geomyces destructans). The fungus has previously been reported elsewhere in Europe, but the episodes of mass-death linked to WNS have not been observed, which leads researchers to believe the bats of the region have an immunity to the fungus.

Nearly 6 million North American bats have died from WNS since the disease was first reported there in 2006. The killer disease threatens hibernating bats by causing them to rouse from their slumber prematurely, putting a strain on the precious energy reserves the bats need to make it through a winter of hibernation. A build-up of white fungus around the noses of infected bats gives WNS its name.

Since it was first reported in New York state in the winter of 2006-2007, WNS has continuously spread throughout the Eastern US into Canada and further west. Many US states have been taking precautions against what they believe is the inevitable arrival of WNS in their territory.

"In North America the fungus causes White-Nose Syndrome and millions of bats have died, in Europe the fungus has been found on bats but the difference is that these animals are alive and appear to be healthy," the Bat Conservation Trust's Chief Executive Julia Hanmer said in a statement.

"There is no evidence of WNS in Europe. It is thought that the fungus has been present in Europe for a long time and European bats have developed resilience to it. The fungus was most likely introduced to North America from this side of the Atlantic, hence the dramatic effect it is having on bat populations there, as they have no immunity to the disease."

Recently, US Forest Service scientists identified the closest known non-disease-causing relatives of the WNS fungus. These fungi can be found in bat habitats and even on roosting bats themselves, but do not cause disease. Researchers hope to be able to understand why one fungus can be so deadly to bats while its close relatives are benign.

"Identification of the closest known relatives of this fungus makes it possible to move forward with genetic work to examine the molecular toolbox this fungus uses to kill bats," according to Daniel Lindner, a research plant pathologist with the US Forest Service. "Ultimately, we hope to use this information to be able to interrupt the ability of this fungus to cause disease."

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