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New study reveals how bats evolved to avoid cancer

2023 Sep 25, 7:47, Washington
A Mexican long-tongued bat is held by Mexico's National Autonomous University, UNAM, Ecology Institute Biologist Rodrigo Medellin after it was briefly captured for a study at the university's botanical gardens, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Photo: AP via RSS

According to a new study published in Genome Biology and Evolution by Oxford University Press, rapid evolution in bats may explain the animals' unique ability to host and survive infections as well as avoid cancer.

Not only do bats have the capacity to fly, but they also have long lifespans, low cancer rates, and robust immune systems. Bats are also suspected of aiding in the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Bats' ability to tolerate viral infections could be attributed to unusual characteristics of their innate immune response.

These characteristics make bats an interesting animal to investigate, because they may have implications for human health. 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.

Here researchers 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, and carried out a comprehensive comparative genomic analysis with a diverse collection of bats and other mammals.

The researchers found genetic adaptations in six DNA repair-related proteins and 46 proteins in bats that were cancer-related, meaning that researchers have previously found such proteins suppress cancer. Notably, the study found these 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 the paper’s lead author, Armin Scheben. “These investigations are the first step towards translating research on the unique biology of bats into insights relevant to understanding and treating ageing and diseases, such as cancer, in humans.” 


Cancer Mammals Jamaican fruit bat
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