Genetic mapping reveals how these animals manage to live with microorganisms harmful to other species.
An international team of biologists mapped the genetic material that encodes adaptations and abilities of six bat species – and it worked.
The set of genomes, called Bat1K, is ten times more complete than that mapped in any previous research. The results of the study were published this week in the journal Nature.
The article explains how the APOBEC3 gene family evolved. This family of genes is known for its important role in the immune system of other mammals.
Scientists believe that mapping bats’ DNA may help to understand why these animals are more resistant to some viral diseases.
“More and more, we find gene duplications and losses as important processes in the evolution of new features and functions across the Tree of Life,” said Liliana Dávalos, co-author of the research, in a statement to the press. “At extremely high quality, the new bat genomes leave no doubts about changes in important gene families that could not be discovered otherwise with lower-quality genomes.”
The team combined old technologies with new methods to sequence the DNA of bats and compared the genomes with those of 42 other mammals to find exactly where the bats are located on the tree of life.
According to the scientists, these animals are part of a group called Fereuungulata, which also includes dogs, cats, seals, pangolins, and whales.
“It is thanks to a series of sophisticated statistical analyses that we have started to uncover the genetics behind bats’ ‘superpowers,’ including their strong apparent abilities to tolerate and overcome RNA viruses,” Dávalos said.