Seeker Archives

Cave Microbe May Aid Bats in White-Nose Syndrome Fight

The yeast produces a compound shown in the lab to inhibit the fungus that causes the deadly condition in bats.

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.

AIDS Drug May Work Against Bat Disease

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.

This northern long-eared bat in Illinois is affected by white-nose syndrome.

Did you know April 17 is bat appreciation day? And why not? These flying mammals, though they look a bit scary to some people, are actually most welcome critters, for all of the good they do. Bats are terrific pollinators and seed-dispersers of hundreds of plant species, and they eat tons of insects -- enough to match their own body weight on a good night of foraging. So on this day, appreciate them we will! Let's have a look at some more of these winged wonders.

Bats and Moths Face Off Using Ultrasound

Most bats spend their days sleeping, in preparation for their nocturnal foraging. Their slumber may look upside-down to us, but to them it's totally the way you're supposed to do it.

Why Blood Tastes Good to Vampires ... Bats, That Is

Bats love, love, love insects, but they'll also eat fruits, flower nectar, vertebrates, and -- yes, indeed -- blood.

Golden Bat From Bolivia ID'd as New Species

This female dwarf epauletted fruit bat is in a family way, at the moment. Pregnant bats usually carry just one child at a time. Once born, the moms will nurse the newbies until they're almost fully grown, as the little ones' wings need to be fully developed before they can hunt for food on their own.

Vampire Bats Suck Blood of Baby Penguins

Bat colonies roost together, and can do so in unspeakably large numbers -- in the millions, in some cases and caves.

Bat Rocks Out in Speaker-Like Roost

And when they take wing at dusk, they do that together too, in huge swarms.

Hibernators Stretch After Long Winter's Nap: Photos

There are more than 1,200 species of bat, the vast percentage of them insectivores.

Male Bats Perform Oral Sex on Females

Bats have generally small teeth that will vary by species, but they're plenty well suited to tearing into bugs, fruit, or even skin if the bat is among the small group of species that dines on vertebrates such as frogs or birds.

Bat-Eating Spiders Are Everywhere

Bats' wings are a lot thinner than those of birds, which helps them move fast, with incredible precision. Of course their thinness makes them fragile and susceptible to tearing. But if the tears aren't too large, they heal quickly.

Bizarre Sighting: Cane Toad Eating a Bat?

Sadly, bats today are experiencing a health emergency that first came to light in 2006. In large numbers, they're being decimated by a condition called white-nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on the muzzles, ears, and wings and is fatal nearly 100 percent of the time. This northern long-eared bat in Illinois is affected by white-nose syndrome. While there has been some

encouraging research

into treatments, there is as yet no cure for the disease. Here's hoping one arrives soon, because we need bats!

Mysterious Bat Killer Still Marching Across U.S.