Friday, November 4, 2011

White-nose syndrome in Bats

There has been a recent outbreak of White-nose syndrome (WNS) among bat populations of eastern North America. The disease is named after the white growth caused by the recently discovered Geomyces destructans on the skin. WNS has been found to be associated with cutaneous legions. The role of G. destructans has been debated, because fungal infections in mammals primarily target the immune system. Additionally, it has been found that G. destructans commonly infects the skin of bats in Europe, but no abnormal mortalities have been reported.

Recently, it has been demonstrated that exposure of healthy brown bats to cultures of G. destructans leads to WNS. It was also shown that G. destructans can be transmitted between bats through direct contact. These results show that G. destructans is the causal agent of WNS. Results also provided evidence that the fungus cannot be transmitted through air – although, this could simply be due to an insufficient transmission environment (air patterns, temperature, and others).

Together these results can help guide further research and aid in conservation planning. They demonstrate that removing infected bats from hibernating populations could be an effective method of reducing the spread of G. destructans. They also show that the fungus could be endemic to Europe, but was recently introduced to North America – where the bats were unaccustomed to the fungus. The fungus could have existed on both continents, but evolved to infect North American bats very recently, or to have more serious effects. These are less likely, but still possibilities.

Jefferey M. Lorch, Carol U. Meteyer, Melissa J. Behr, Justin G. Boyles, Paul M. Cryan, Alan C. Hicks, Anne E. Ballmann, Jeremy T. H. Coleman, David N. Redell, DeeAnn M. Reeder & David S. Blehert “Experimental infection of bats with Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome.” Nature October 2011.

-Zachary Norgaard

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