Old Bats Have Secrets of Youth

Cancer and viral infection resistance clues may be found in bats

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Maybe you’ve heard the expression – “ah, she’s an old bat.” Thing is - old bats could teach us all a thing or two about youth, health and long life. Well, some kinds of bats.

The genetic make up of the only flying mammals - bats - may provide some fascinating clues about how humans may one day resist viral infections and cancer.

Scientists in Australia are suggesting that the bat’s path to flight may have had some beneficial side effects. These include the ability to host yet resist deadly viruses and live a long time.

"Ask your oncologist about new cancer therapies."

A team of Australian researchers at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the Beijing Genome Institute, worked together to learn more about the mysteries of bats.

"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," said Dr. Chris Cowled, post-doctoral fellow at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory

The scientists sequenced the entire DNA – the genome - of three species of bats. They then compared those genomes with the genomes of eight other mammals, including humans.

There were some similarities. The scientists are suggesting that the act of flying produces toxic chemicals that the bats have learned to overcome.

“Some of these genes, including P53, are implicated in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA," Dr. Cowled said in a statement. They also learned that some of these genes play a role 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," Dr. Cowled said.

Having this more thorough understanding of bats, Dr. Cowled believes, could possibly lead to ways to prevent and treat disease in humans.

This research was published December 20 in the journal Science.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 27, 2012
Last Updated:
December 30, 2012