Bats may hold key to cancer prevention

The genes of virus-resistant and long-living bats may eventually help researchers develop new treatments for cancer and viruses or even prevent them, a study released Friday says.

Researchers in Australia and China are sequencing the genomes of two bat species — an Australian mega bat and a Chinese micro bat — and comparing them to human genomes to find similarities and differences.

Researchers are studying bats, like this black flying fox, to try to develop better treatments of human diseases. (Sun Media News Services(

Researchers are studying bats, like this black flying fox, to try to develop better treatments of human diseases. (Sun Media News Services(

“A deeper understanding of these evolutionary adaptations in bats may lead to better treatments for human diseases, and may eventually enable us to predict or perhaps even prevent outbreaks of emerging bat viruses,” said Chris Cowled, a post-doctoral fellow at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

There’s a lot to learn from the evolution of the bat. After all, they’ve been on Earth for at least 65 million years.

Bats are known to carry deadly viruses, such as SARS and Ebola, but don’t often die from them, Cowled said.

They also live a long time compared to animals of a similar size.

Bats, the only flying mammal, have “novel genes” to deal with toxins that are produced while they fly. Those genes, including P53, are involved in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA, the study said.

“What we found intriguing was that some of these genes also have secondary roles in the immune system,” Cowled said. “We’re proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spill over effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like aging and cancer.”

The study was published in the journal Science.

— Sun Media News Services