Canadian research offers more clues to the origins of deadly disease
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers are closer to pinpointing the origins of a deadly disease that has killed almost 7 million bats in the eastern and central U.S.
White nose syndrome, which affects hibernating bats, likely results from a fungus native to Europe, Canadian researchers reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous research had also suggested a European origin for the disease. The fungus is know to exist in European bat habitat, but the bats have apparently developed some genetic immunity.
In a controlled setting, biologists exposed separate groups of test bats to European and American strains of the fungus and monitored the onset of the disease for several months.
Both groups of bats showed all the known signs of the disease, including powdery white fungal growths on the bats’ exposed skin and damage to the wings. Infected bats were likely roused three to four times more often than uninfected bats from their hibernation, resulting in the depletion of precious subcutaneous fat reserves and in body wasting, which, the authors suggest, is the likely cause of mortality.
Because European bats largely survive the fungal infection possibly through the evolution of immunity, the authors suggest that the introduction of the fungus from Europe into North America is the likely cause of white nose syndrome among North American bats.
Researchers don’t know how the fungus may have spread from Europe to the U.S. There has been some speculation that visitors to caves carried a few of the spores on their clothes or shoes.
Some fungal spores can survive extreme conditions and be transported for great distances. The new data may help researchers understand how the disease spreads and could be a small first step toward preventing further devastation of bat populations.