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Common Bacterium Cures Bats' White-nose Syndrome

A bacterium found in soil and used to make food flavorings has cured 150 bats of White-nose Syndrome. Continue reading →

A common bacterium we find in everyday things, like food flavorings, is giving scientists hope that bat populations can be saved from deadly White-nose Syndrome.

The new treatment was developed in Missouri by Forest Service scientists Sybill Amelon and Dan Lindner, and Chris Cornelison of Georgia State University.

The bacterium, Rhodococcus rhodochrous, dwells in pretty much all soils found in North America and is safe for plants and animals. In fact, it's been used in more than one industrial application, including flavorings for our food, for over half a century, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

PHOTOS: National Bat Appreciation Day

This time, the researchers grew the bacterium on cobalt, which produced so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that stop the fungus, Psuedogymnoascus destructans, from growing.

"The amazing part about this is that these compounds diffuse through the air and act at very low concentrations, so the bats are treated by exposing them to air containing the VOCs (the compounds do not need to be ‘directly' applied to the bats)," according to a USFS press release.

"Many of the bats in those trials experienced increased health and survival," it said.

However, more than one chemical is created from the reaction, so the scientists' next step is to isolate which chemical is the one that stops the fungus from growing.

VIDEO: The Amazing Link Between Bats and Dolphins

White-nose Syndrome attacks a bat's nose, ears, and wings while it hibernates, when the animal's temperature is at its lowest. All infected bats in a colony die, usually because their immune systems are compromised and they use twice as much energy during hibernation as healthy bats do, shedding precious fat reserves too early, according to researchers.

The disease has been plowing through bat populations since the early 2000s, killing nearly 6 million bats since 2006, according to WhiteNoseSyndrome.org. Twenty-six U.S. states have confirmed the presence of the disease.

If there's no cure found for White-nose Syndrome, many scientists fear that bats will be extinct within a few decades.

New Details Emerge on Mystery Bat-Killer Disease

In the meantime, the lucky 150 bats that survived the experiments during the Missouri research will be released on Tuesday, May 19.

Little brown bats hibernating in a cave in New York State. Most of the bats have white fungal growth on their muzzles, which is a common characteristic of 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.