Can cancer give you super powers

Genetic research: will bat superpowers soon be transferable to humans?

A second superpower is the bats' virus tolerance. How do you manage not to get seriously ill?

It is known that various species of bats can live with a variety of viruses. They form a so-called virus reservoir in which pathogens that are fatal to humans and other animals collect and multiply - for example various corona viruses, rabies or Ebola. It appears that bats have a special immune system that allows them to live with viruses without becoming seriously ill and showing severe symptoms. In the international Bat1K project, we want to create high-quality genomes from all bats and answer the question of which genetic changes or gene regulation play a role for such traits as virus tolerance and healthy aging in bats.

How can one prove the genetic changes?

By comparing the DNA of bat species that are very old with that of normally aging. But a genome, i.e. the entirety of DNA, cannot be sequenced in one piece. Think of it like a book: you can't just read through the DNA from cover to cover. But the book is torn into many pieces of the puzzle and you have to put these short pieces back together again. Fortunately, there are now technological advances that allow much larger pieces of the puzzle to be sequenced. Because a 1000-piece puzzle is much more difficult to solve than a puzzle made up of 20 pieces. As a result, we were now able to create very high quality, very well put together and very complete genomes for six species.

What knowledge did you gain?

On the one hand, we were able to detect fossil virus sequences in the bats' DNA. Viruses multiply in cells, and every now and then the viral genome, i.e. the genetic information of the virus, is incorporated into the host's DNA sequence. Under certain circumstances this can be fixed in a population. So if I sequence an individual, you can find partially integrated pieces of viruses in the genome. To come back to the book example: When putting the book together, you can find a piece on page fifty that actually doesn't belong in this book. The sequence derived from a virus was used there in the course of evolution. We have found a wide range of such fossil virus sequences in the DNA of bats. Some viruses were previously unknown to infect mammals at all. Like a kind of molecular memory that shows us that bats have probably been living with various viruses for longer, evolutionary periods of time.

Fascinating flutterers: fruit bats & bats