My colleagues in the scientific communications group at Promega are pretty sure that I have bats in my belfry. And, they may be right. After all I have written extensively and repeatedly about bats in North America and the threat that they are facing from White Nose Syndrome, the devastating disease caused by a cold-loving fungus (you can read my last post here). And, just last week I skipped an awesome party on Rainey Street in Austin, TX, to instead hang out by the Congress Ave bridge in hopes of seeing the urban bats fly.
But just in time for the annual Promega Connections Halloween blog, I stumbled across some good news for our distant mammalian cousins.
In May 2015, 75 bats were successfully treated for WNS and released back into the wild at a cave in Hannibal, MO. The project, which was a collaboration among several groups including The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, Bat Conservation International, and a group of researchers at Georgia State University led by Dr. Christopher Cornelison, involved treating sick bats with volatile organic compounds from a bacterial species, Rhodococcus rhodochrous, isolated from bananas that were resistant to fungal rotting. Publishing preliminary work in BMC Microbiology, Cornelison and colleagues demonstrated that compounds released by R. rodochrous seemed to suppress growth of the white-nose syndrome fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd).
I haven’t found any follow up work on the bats that were released though. Were they resistant to reinfection with the fungus? We know that European and Asian bat species do not develop WNS upon exposure to Pd, even though it is present in their environment. Does one infection confer resistance to future infection–paving the way for oral vaccine development, perhaps? Or do the bats get sick again? If so, do they still respond to treatment with the VOCs? Are there other naturally occurring compounds with low toxicity that might be useful? One group is evaluating cold-pressued, terpeneless, valencia orange oil.
The one thing that does really impress me about the entire story of WNS is how many diverse groups are working together, recreational hikers and spelunkers, conservation groups, the National Forest Service, the USGS, academic labs around the United States and the globe, and even corporations are all pooling their resources, knowledge and observations to work on this problem. It’s nice to hear a story of people united to solve a problem, and it makes for a Happy Halloween indeed.