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New Study Sheds Light on Bats' Long Life and Resistance to Diseases

Dec 23, 2012 05:54 AM EST

A new study sheds light on the evolution of bats' flight, their resistance to viruses and their long life span.

Experts hope the study might help in providing better treatments for human diseases.

The Bat Pack, a team of researchers at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong and their colleagues from China, Singapore and the U.S., sequenced the genome of two bat species - the Black Flying Fox (an Australian mega bat) and the David's Myotis (a Chinese micro bat).

They compared the genome with that of other mammals, including humans, in order to understand the similarities and differences between them.

Bats are distinct mammals that have evolved a powered flight. They have the ability to sustain their flight by their physical effort. These mammals have been around for at least 65 million years. They are the second most diverse group of mammals with more than 1,000 species.

Bats are known to host lethal viruses such as Hendra, Ebola and SARS. These viruses do not infect the bats, but when transmitted to humans the impact is huge and fatal. Bats, in fact, have a longer life span when compared to other animals of their size.

Earlier studies have shown that the evolution of flight might be linked to high metabolic rates. Flying is a high energy intensive activity which produces toxins causing a significant damage to the bats' DNA, reports AsianScientist.

Until now, it has been a mystery as to how bats managed to resist diseases and live for longer periods of time. This new study reveals that bats have developed novel genes to deal with the toxic by-products and repair the damaged DNA.

The genes include P53, which researchers believe could help in treating viruses that infect humans and boost their immune system.

"What we found intriguing was that some of these genes also have secondary roles in the immune system," Chris Cowled, postdoctoral fellow at AAHL, said in a statement.

"We're proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spillover effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like ageing and cancer."

The findings of the study are published in the journal Science.

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