A “cuddle” of endangered gray bats. Highly social bats like these constantly interact when they aren’t in deep torpor, which may make it possible for them to help vaccinate each other! Photo by Cory Holliday.

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a good week!

I have some really big news to share with you guys this week! Scientific researchers have reported that they are working on a new vaccine for bats that will combat White Nose Syndrome. White Nose Syndrome is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus grows over the bats’ faces and wings during hibernation, which causes the bat to wake up prematurely and lose a majority of their fat reserves. This disease has killed around 7 million bats in the United States since 2006.*

Scientists worked on two vaccines by implanting DNA instructions into raccoon pox viruses in order to trick the bats’ immune systems. In order to test the vaccines, they took a few wild little brown bats and exposed them to the fungus before vaccinating them. Out of the 10 bats given the vaccine, only one developed White Nose Syndrome. Out of 23 other bats, 14 that didn’t get the vaccine developed White Nose Syndrome.

Fueled by the results of the first trial, the researchers used an oral vaccine as well as the injections. After 126 days, 88% of the bats who received the oral vaccine survived the experiment and 80% of the injected bats survived. The bats that lived lost around 34% of their body weight. The 30% of unvaccinated bats who were exposed to the same fungus lost 55% of their body weight, and unfortunately died. Researchers believe that by slowing the growth and intensity of the fungus, the bats are allowed a more peaceful sleep in order to combat the fungus.

By combining the two vaccines, the researchers hope to create a stronger jolt to the bats’ immune system. They hope to create a spray version of the vaccine that the bats can lick off their fur. Seeing as bats are very clean animals that groom themselves often, this should work well. Also, since they are very social animals, they would be able to transfer the vaccine to other bats when they nuzzle each other. This technique worked well on a test of another vaccine on big brown bats. Reaching all of the bats will be hard, but if this works, it can help save endangered species.

If you would like to learn more about this, you can do so here.

*Please note the “7 million bats killed” figure was derived in 2011. Since then the fungus has continued to spread and bats have continued to die. We believe this figure grossly underestimates the number of bats that have died from WNS.–Ed.

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