If you like bats, then you're probably familiar with white-nose syndrome. It's a disease that infects the animals as they hibernate, and it's been decimating bat populations across North America in recent years. There may be new hope, however, as scientists have discovered that the fungus behind the disease is killed by exposure to UV light.
Known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus was studied by researchers from the US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, and the University of New Hampshire.
Upon being compared to six non-pathogenic Pseudogymnoascus species, it was found that P. destructans lacks a key enzyme that allows it to repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet light. When samples of the fungus were exposed to a low dose of UV-C light from a handheld source, the survival rate was only about 15 percent – this dropped to less than 1 percent when the dose was moderate.
In both cases, the duration of exposure was a matter of no more than a few seconds.
Plans now call for additional research to be conducted, in which little brown bats will be treated with UV light while hibernating, and then compared to a control group which is left untreated. The scientists will also be taking note of whether there are any side effects, such as the dying off of beneficial bacteria that naturally inhabit the bats' skin.
"It is unusual that P. destructans appears to be unable to repair damage caused by UV light," says Forest Service scientist Jon Palmer, lead author of the study. "Most organisms that have been found in the absence of light maintain the ability to repair DNA caused by UV light radiation. We are very hopeful that the fungus' extreme vulnerability to UV light can be exploited to manage the disease and save bats."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: USDA Forest Service
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