Bats may hold vital clues to beating cancer, suggests a new study.
The research shows that rapid evolution in bats may account for their “extraordinary” ability to both host and survive infections as well as avoid cancer.
Scientists say bats are exceptional among mammals for not only their ability to fly but also their long lives, low cancer rates, and robust immune systems.
They are also believed to have played a role in the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2.
The ability of bats to tolerate viral infections may stem from unusual features of their innate immune response, according to the new research in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, published by Oxford University Press.
“These characteristics make bats an interesting animal to investigate, because they may have implications for human health,” said Lead author Dr. Armin Scheben.
“For example, by better understanding the mechanisms of the bat immune system that allow bats to tolerate viral infections, researchers may be better able to prevent disease outbreaks from animals to people.
“Comparative genomic analyses of bats and cancer-susceptible mammals may eventually provide new information on the causes of cancer and the links between cancer and immunity.
“Studies of bats and other organisms complement studies based on mouse models; mice are more amenable than bats to experimental manipulation but exhibit fewer characteristics with implications for human disease.”
The research team – using the Oxford Nanopore Technologies long-read platform, and bat samples collected with help from the American Museum of Natural History in Belize – sequenced the genomes of two bat species, the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican mustached bat.
They conducted a comprehensive comparative genomic analysis with a diverse collection of bats and other mammals.
The team found genetic adaptations in six DNA repair-related proteins and 46 proteins in bats that were cancer-related. Researchers have previously found such proteins suppress cancer.
The study also discovered that the altered cancer-related genes were enriched more than two-fold in the bat group compared to other mammals.
“By generating these new bat genomes and comparing them to other mammals we continue to find extraordinary new adaptations in antiviral and anticancer genes,” said Dr. Scheben, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States.
He added: “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.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager