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  • Bats' Unique Genetic Adaptations Offer Clues to Disease and Aging in Humans

    Bats have always intrigued scientists with their unique qualities: the ability to fly, long lifespans, robust immune systems, and notably low rates of cancer. Now, a recent study published in Genome Biology and Evolution by Oxford University Press adds to this intrigue by exploring the genetic reasons behind these exceptional traits.

    This study specifically examined the genetic adaptations of bats and how they might contribute to their resilience against diseases, as well as their low incidence of cancer. Bats have been linked to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, but their own ability to tolerate and survive viral infections without much detriment is an area of scientific curiosity. This capacity for tolerance might be attributed to unique aspects of their innate immune responses.

    By understanding the bat's immune system and its mechanism for disease tolerance, researchers believe they can gain valuable knowledge for preventing disease transmission from animals to humans. Furthermore, comparing the genomes of bats with mammals that are more susceptible to cancer can pave the way for a deeper understanding of cancer causes and the interplay between cancer and immunity. While mice have traditionally been used for such studies due to the ease of experimental manipulation, they don't exhibit as many traits with direct implications for human disease as bats do.

    To conduct their study, the researchers employed the Oxford Nanopore Technologies long-read platform. They sequenced the genomes of two bat species: the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican mustached bat. The study included bat samples provided by the American Museum of Natural History in Belize. Their genetic analysis compared the genomes of these bats with a wide variety of other bats and mammals.

    The findings were captivating. The researchers identified genetic changes in six DNA repair-related proteins and another 46 proteins that were previously known to have cancer-suppressing properties in bats. Interestingly, the number of altered cancer-related genes in bats was significantly higher than in other mammals.

    Armin Scheben, the study's lead author, expressed the broader significance of their findings. He noted, “By generating these new bat genomes and comparing them to other mammals we continue to find extraordinary new adaptations in antiviral and anticancer genes. These investigations are the first step towards translating research on the unique biology of bats into insights relevant to understanding and treating aging and diseases, such as cancer, in humans.”
    ​

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