Experts believe that bats offer clues to treating COVID-19. In a recent interview, some experts suggested that studying the immune system of bats will provide new targets for human therapies to fight diseases caused by coronaviruses.

Many of the deadly viruses affecting humans, including Ebola, rabies, and SARS-CoV-2, have emerged from bats. But while humans experience adverse symptoms when infected with these pathogens, experts find it remarkable how bats are able to tolerate such viruses and even live much longer than similar-sized land mammals. Despite being carriers of viruses, bats manage to stay healthy and have lifespans of 30 to 40 years, which is impressive for their size.

“We’ve been interested in longevity and disease resistance in bats for a while, but we didn’t have the time to sit and think about it,” said Gorbunova, a professor of Biology at Rochester. “Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realized there may be a very strong connection between bats’ resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realized that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight diseases,” she added.

According to experts, one of the keys to combating COVID-19 is by regulating the human immune system to resemble those of bats. Researchers at the University of Rochester said the longevity and capacity of bats to tolerate viruses result from their ability to control inflammation—a hallmark of disease and aging. Through mutation, these mammals have completely eliminated genes involved in inflammation.

“Humans have two possible strategies if we want to prevent inflammation, live longer and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like COVID-19,” said Gorbunova. “One would be to not be exposed to any viruses, but that’s not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat,” she added.

While that is achievable, Gorbunova noted that evolution takes place over thousands of years. Unlike humans, the constant exposure of bats to viruses has allowed their immune systems to develop a mechanism that can easily combat deadly pathogens.

“Usually the strongest driver of new traits in evolution is an arms race with pathogens,” said Gorbunova. “Dealing with all of these viruses may be shaping bats’ immunity and longevity,” she added.

COVID-19 COVID-19 around the world. Photo by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay