The Australian mega bat and a Chinese micro bat may provide clues to the future treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancer in people, say researchers.
These bats evolved flight, resistance to viruses and the ability to live relatively long time, say the team sequencing the genomes of the two bat species. They then compared the bat genomes to the genomes of eight other mammals, including humans, to find similarities and differences.
"A deeper understanding of these evolutionary adaptations in bats may lead to better treatments for human diseases, and may eventually enable us to predict or perhaps even prevent outbreaks of emerging bat viruses," said Dr. Chris Cowled, post-doctoral fellow at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
"Bats are a natural reservoir for several lethal viruses, such as Hendra, Ebola and SARS, but they often don't succumb to disease from these viruses. They're also the only mammal that can fly, and they live a long time compared to animals similar in size.
Flying is a very energy intensive activity that produces toxic by-products but we can see that bats have some novel genes to deal with these toxins."
Some of those genes, including P53, are implicated in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA.
They determined some of those genes also have secondary roles in the immune system. "We're proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spill over effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like ageing and cancer," said Cowled.
The research also reaffirms bats' ancient and important place in the eco-system, particularly as pollinators and controlling insect numbers.
"They've been around since the time of the dinosaurs, at least 65 million years, and they're among the most abundant and widespread mammals on the earth."
Published in Science