Research highlight

Genomics: Six genomes provide clues to bats’ exceptional adaptations


July 23, 2020

High-quality reference genomes for six bat species are published in Nature this week. The findings provide new insights into the genetic basis for bats’ extreme adaptations, such as their longevity, echolocation, sensory perception and exceptional immunity to viral infections.

As part of the Bat1K global genome consortium, Emma Teeling, Sonja Vernes and colleagues report the genome sequences of six bat species: the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus), the pale spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus discolor), the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis), the Kuhl’s pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii) and the velvety free-tailed bat (Molossus molossus). Their analyses help to pinpoint the evolutionary origins of bats within the Scrotifera group of placental mammals. The authors show that genes involved in hearing were selected for in the ancestral branch of bats, suggesting that laryngeal echolocation was an ancestral trait in this group. They also find evidence of selection and loss of genes involved in immunity, and expansions of antiviral APOBEC3 genes, highlighting the molecular mechanisms that may have contributed to bats’ exceptional immunity. Moreover, genomic integrations from diverse viruses reveals the historical tolerance of bats to viral infections.

The work represents a rich resource for better understanding the genomic basis of the adaptations of bats and may also have implications for human health and disease. For example, the genomes could aid studies of how bats tolerate coronavirus infections, which may, in the future, yield approaches to increase the human survivability of diseases such as COVID-19.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2486-3

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