Bats Offer COVID-19 Hints; Living Long Lifespans in Highly Crowded Environments and Constantly Exposed to, But Largely Tolerant of, Myriad Viruses, These Only Flying Mammals Have Mutated or Eliminated Certain Genes That Influence Inflammation

Bats are often considered patient zero for many deadly viruses affecting humans, including Ebola, rabies, and, most recently, the SARS-CoV-2 strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Although humans experience adverse symptoms when afflicted with these pathogens, bats are remarkably able to tolerate viruses, and, additionally, live much longer than similar-sized land mammals. What are the secrets to the longevity and virus resistance of bats? According to researchers at the University of Rochester in New York, bats' longevity and capacity to tolerate viruses may stem from their ability to control inflammation, which is a hallmark of disease and aging. In a Perspective piece published in the July 7, 2020 issue of Cell Metabolism, the researchers--including University of Rochester biology professors Vera Gorbunova, PhD, and Andrei Seluanov, PhD--outline the mechanisms underlying bats' unique abilities and how these mechanisms may hold clues to developing new treatments for diseases in humans. The open-access article is titled “The World Goes Bats: Living Longer and Tolerating Viruses.” The idea for the paper came about when Dr. Gorbunova and Dr. Seluanov, who are married, were in Singapore in March 2020 before COVID-19 travel bans began. When the virus started to spread and Singapore went into lockdown, they were both quarantined at the home of their colleague Brian Kennedy, PhD, Director of the Centre for Healthy Aging at the National University of Singapore and co-author of the paper. The three scientists, all experts on longevity in mammals, got to talking about bats. SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have originated in bats before the virus was transmitted to humans. Although bats were carriers, they seemed to be unaffected by the virus.
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