SCIENCE

Bats' 'Super Immunity' Could Help Stop Spread Of Infectious Diseases In Humans

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Feb, 26, 2016, 01:55 PM
Bats
(Photo : Getty Images/Ian Waldie) Bats are hosts to more than 100 viruses -- including Ebola -- but don't get sick or display symptoms.

Despite being carriers for more than 100 viruses including Ebola and Hendra virus -the immune system of bats prevents them from getting sick or displaying any symptoms related to the viruses they host.

Many of the viruses hosted by bats can be deadly to humans, but researchers hope that the immune abilities of bats could be developed to help improve immunity in humans, writes Nature World News.

"Whenever our body encounters a foreign organism, like bacteria or a virus, a complicated set of immune responses are set in motion, one of which is the defense mechanism known as innate immunity," Dr. Michelle Baker, leading bat immunologist from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), said in a news release. "We focused on the innate immunity of bats, in particular the role of interferons -- which are integral for innate immune responses in mammals -- to understand what's special about how bats respond to invading viruses."

Researchers from the CSIRO Animal Health Laboratory studied the genes and immune system of an Australian black flying fox - a type of bat - for the study. Unlike humans, the immune systems belonging to bats remain active all the time. Researchers are hoping to harness this ability for use in humans to provide better protection against diseases like Ebola.

The study compared the number of interferons in bats with those found in humans. Interferons are a group of signaling proteins created and released by host cells in response to viruses, bacteria and parasites as well as tumor cells.

"Interestingly we have shown that bats only have three interferons which is only a fraction -- about a quarter -- of the number of interferons we find in people," Baker said in a CSIRO news release. "This is surprising given bats have this unique ability to control viral infections that are lethal in people and yet they can do this with a lower number of interferons."

Researchers also compared type 1 alpha interferons with type 1 beta interferons, which showed that bats had the ability to generate a heightened innate immune response even though they had not been infected with a detectable virus.

"Unlike people and mice, who activate their immune systems only in response to infection, the bats interferon-alpha is constantly 'switched on' acting as a 24/7 front line defense against diseases," Baker explained. "In other mammalian species, having the immune response constantly switched on is dangerous -- for example it's toxic to tissue and cells -- whereas the bat immune system operates in harmony."

The researchers suggest that manipulating the immune systems of other species to replicate the behaviors of a bats immune system could greatly reduce number of outbreaks of infectious diseases around the world.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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