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Could bats hold the secret to beating Covid and cancer?

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Bats could hold the key to unlocking new ways to combat cancer, a new study suggests.

A paper published by Oxford University Press, looks at the rapid evolution of bats for their abilities to both host and survive infections such as Covid-19 as well as cancer.

The animals are known to have a strong immune system which helps fight off many viruses and diseases.

These mammals are also thought to have played a role in the emergence of Covid-19 and scientists say such characteristics are interesting to investigate due to the implications it might have on human health.

According to the research, understanding the mechanisms of the bat’s immune system that allows these animals to fight off viral infections – may pave the way to understanding how to prevent disease outbreaks from animals to people.

To conduct the study, researchers sequenced the genomes of two bat species - the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican mustached bat.

The team used advanced technology from Oxford Nanopore Technologies and bat samples collected by the American Museum of Natural History in Belize. They then compared the bat genomes to those of other mammals.

The results revealed that bats possessed genetic adaptations in proteins which are related to DNA repair and cancer suppression.

It was found that bats had adaptations in six DNA repair-related proteins and 46 cancer-related proteins.

The study also found that bats had more than double the number of altered cancer-related genes compared to other mammals, which provided further evidence that they have the ability to suppress cancer.

“By generating these new bat genomes and comparing them to other mammals we continue to find extraordinary new adaptations in antiviral and anticancer genes,” said the paper’s lead author, Armin Scheben.

“These investigations are the first step towards translating research on the unique biology of bats into insights relevant to understanding and treating ageing and diseases, such as cancer, in humans.”

The results open up new paths for understanding and studying the links between cancer and immunity, which offers hope that these insights from bats might possibly lead to new treatments for human illnesses.

According to the United States Department of the Interior, there are over 1,400 species of bats worldwide and are mostly found in extreme deserts and polar regions.

In the US and Canada, there are about 45 species of bats.