Bats v Viruses: Dawn of Interferons

How can the Bats do it? How will the Bats(man) be able to stand against the Super-Virus(man)?  Kryptonite….I guess…. But what if the Bats can’t get any special space rock? Ah! An armoured suit and a kryptonite arrow! A multi-facetted approach. Regardless, the whole thing will probably be pretty wicked…..maybe 

Hold up one minute. I’ve never seen a Bat in a armoured suit hooked up to the city’s power-supply, I hear you say. Well… in the case of the Australian black flying fox, what we are talking about is internal armour… genes… particularly those  interferons that are associated with anti-viral activity.

Hold up another minute. I’ve never seen a Virus physically have a hand-to-hand fight with its host, I hear you say. Well… in the cases of hendra, SARS, rabies and ebola, what we are again talking about is that internal fight… those viruses going up against the power of the Bats ‘armoured’ immune system.

Because the thing is, where any other mammal would struggle, get real sick and perhaps even die when up against theses viruses, Bats are able to coexist. They have ’em but they don’t get ill…..How?

That’s pretty much what Peng, Michelle  and a team of researchers aimed to discover by checking out Bats’ genome. What they found was whereas regular humans have a high number of these interferons, that turn on and off in a complex little dance of exposure to viruses, Bats only have three and they are always turned on. Real simple like.

Bats defeat Virus hands-down thanks to this ‘super-immunity‘! In your face Super-Virus-Man!!

For the actual science of this story you should definitely read the paper and contact the authors if you have any questions (plus there is tonnes more info HERE).

Zhou P, Tachedjian M, Wynne JW, Boyd V, Cui J, Smith I, Cowled C, Ng JHJ, Mok L, Michalski WP, Mendenhall IH, Tachedjian G, Wang LF & Baker ML (2016) Contraction of the type I IFN locus and unusual constitutive expression of IFN-a in batsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 2696-2701.

K!E#12 by Luke S. O’Loughlin

Postscript: So this edition of KAPOW! ECOLOGY is a little bit less ECOLOGY and little bit more an opportunity to to draw some iconic Batman and Superman imagery in the week that their movie is released – where they will no doubt punch for a bit and then be friends. However, there was another reason to do this particular paper. Besides it being good science, it is also already the subject of some comic-strip style science communication! Seriously! This format is so-hot-right-now it would seem that even the CSIRO are getting in on it. Here’s the one about bats (animated) and heres another about stem cells.


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