Scientists examining the genome of Egyptian fruit bats, a natural reservoir for the deadly Marburg virus, have identified several immune-related genes that suggest bats deal with viral infections in a substantially different way than primates. Their research, published online on April 26, 2016 Cell, demonstrates that bats may be able to host viruses that are pathogenic in humans by tolerating--rather than overcoming--the infection. The article is titled “The Egyptian Rousette Genome Reveals Unexpected Features of Bat Antiviral Immunity.” Bats are known to harbor many viruses, including several that cause disease in humans, without demonstrating symptoms. To identify differences between antiviral mechanisms in humans and bats, the research team sequenced, assembled, and analyzed the genome of Rousettus aegyptiacus, the Egyptian fruit bat--a natural reservoir of Marburg virus and the only known reservoir for any filovirus. Jonathan Towner, PhD, of the Viral Special Pathogens Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provided the bats from which the DNA was extracted. Dr. Towner had traveled to Uganda to investigate the colony of Egyptian fruit bats implicated in a Marburg fatality there. "Using that DNA, we generated the most contiguous bat genome to date and used it to understand the evolution of immune genes and gene families in bats. This is classical comparative immunology and a good example of the link between basic and applied sciences," explained co-senior author Gustavo Palacios, PhD, who heads the Center for Genome Sciences at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). In the process, Dr. Palacios and colleagues at the CDC and Boston University made some striking findings.
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