Thanks to a microbe found in caves called Candida albicans, there may be a new weapon in the fight against white-nose syndrome, a deadly condition that has ravaged bat populations in the United States for nearly a decade.
Scientists from the University of Illinois have shown in the lab that a compound called tt-farnesol that's produced by C. albicans can inhibit the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which attacks bats while they hibernate and has killed millions of the animals.
"We're looking for a microbe that's already associated with bats, that lives in the cave environment and is not a problem for people or other cave life," said Illinois graduate student Raudabaugh, who conducted the study along with Illinois Natural History Survey mycologist Andrew Miller.
C. albicans commonly lives in many species, including the intestines of humans. The scientists tested various concentrations of its byproduct tt-farnesol against the white-nose syndrome fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) and found that at the right level it will indeed inhibit the deadly fungus.
"There are Candida species that already produce this concentration of tt-farnesol, which inhibits P. destructans at biologically produced concentrations," Raudabaugh said.
Next, then, researchers say caves need to be searched to find Candida populations that make their tt-farnesol at such effective levels.
White-nose syndrome attacks a bat's nose, ears and wings while it hibernates and robs it of the precious energy, in the form of fat reserves, it needs during hibernation. It can wipe out entire colonies of bats.
"Inoculating hibernating bats with these microbes to use tt-farnesol as a control agent could increase the bats' chances of surviving the infection," Raudabaugh said.
The welcome news for bats comes hot on the heels of recent findings that a common bacterium used in everyday life may hold a key to turning back white-nose syndrome, as could drugs widely used to treat HIV/AIDS.
The findings of Raudabaugh and Miller have been published in the journal Mycopathologia.