A Research Blog

“YES!!!” is the answer whenever someone asks about our research.

Bats have commonly been associated with evil (e.g. Dracula) and the dark side of things in western cultures. Their reputation as terrors of the night and vicious blood suckers have haunted many of us since our childhood. Halloween will never be complete without a bat or two hanging around as decorations. But on the other side of the world, sightings or association with bats are considered auspicious omens in Chinese culture. This is mainly due to the Chinese word for “Bats (Fú)” being a homonym to the Chinese word for “Fortune (Fú)”.

This post is brought to you by Dr Justin Ng and Dr Chionh Yok Teng from the Bat Pack, Prof Wang Linfa's lab with the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School. They share with us more about using bats in research and how the Bat Pack is at the forefront of setting up unique bat research capabilities in Singapore.

Cave Nectar BatBats are a unique group of extremely cute and adorable (in our opinion anyway!) animals that have been adapting and evolving with our ever-changing environment for millions of years, with the oldest fossil discovered dating back to at least 52 million years old [1]. They are extremely diverse, accounting for approximately 20% of all classified living mammalian species, second only to rodents [2], with an unusually long life expectancy (based upon longevity standardised by body mass) [3] and low incidences of reported tumorigenesis. One of the distinctive features of bats is their capacity for sustained powered flight, which produces high levels of DNA damaging by-products due to increased metabolic capacity and oxidative stresses. Our landmark genomics paper published in 2013 [4] hypothesised that co-evolution between bats and their flight capability resulted in adaptations to withstand damaging effects of such oxidative by-products (e.g. ROS: reactive oxygen species). Our genetic analysis revealed that multiple vital genes governing major cellular pathways (such as DNA damage repair, tumour suppression, cell arrest and cell death) are under strong evolution selection in bats. This could imply bats possessing a more efficient DNA damage repair mechanism, thus our phenotypic observations of them having a longer life span and lower rates of tumorigenesis.

In the past decade, bats have been cast into the limelight for being natural reservoirs to numerous highly pathogenic viruses, such as the Ebola virus, Nipah Virus, SARS and MERS coronaviruses. Furthermore, numerous newly discovered bat-borne zoonotic viruses continue to emerge every year. Yet, these viruses are able to survive and thrive in bats with the hosts not showing any signs of clinical disease. This suggests that bats might possess immune defence mechanisms different from other mammals, thus conferring them resistance against a multitude of pathogens. With mounting evidence supporting cross-talks between major cellular pathways including the immune system, bats’ ability for more efficient DNA damage repair could have indirectly or serendipitously conferred them a more robust immune system, thus allowing them to harbor viruses with little or no signs of clinical diseases.

IBat Packn Singapore, the Bat Pack (Prof Wang Linfa’s lab) has been pioneering discoveries on various unique aspects of the bat biology, as well as internationally leading the charge in the field of bat immunology. We have established numerous bat-specific reagents and research tools from scratch. Our group has also forged numerous collaborations, both locally and internationally, to further explore how we could learn from these amazing creatures.

To know more about our research and unique capabilities we have established here in Singapore, please feel free to chat with any of our researchers from the Bat Pack or stay tune to more updates in upcoming posts on Microscope.

 

 

References:

1.         Simmons NB, Seymour KL, Habersetzer J, Gunnell GF: Primitive Early Eocene bat from Wyoming and the evolution of flight and echolocation. Nature 2008, 451:818-821.

2.         Corbet GB, Hill JE: A World List of Mammalian Species. London: British Museum; 1980.

3.         Podlutsky AJ, Khritankov AM, Ovodov ND, Austad SN: A New Field Record for Bat Longevity. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 2005, 60:1366-1368.

4.         Zhang G, Cowled C, Shi Z, Huang Z, Bishop-Lilly KA, Fang X, Wynne JW, Xiong Z, Baker ML, Zhao W, et al: Comparative Analysis of Bat Genomes Provides Insight into the Evolution of Flight and Immunity. Science 2013, 339:456-460.

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