It’s all ‘bout the bats, ‘bout the bats, just published

By Fiona McFarlane September 4th, 2015

A look at the recent and rapid progress of research into bats and the viruses they harbour and the role bats play as hosts to many major zoonotic viruses.
A bat with grey head and red coloured upper body

Grey-headed Flying-fox: an Australian megabat

Ebola… SARS…. Hendra… these diseases are often the focus of media attention fuelling public imagination and concern. Online news, and social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook help spread this fear and panic to millions, while international air transport means the potential for infectious agents to move around the world within hours is a confronting reality.

In the last two decades, some of the largest outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, including SARS in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014/2015, have implicated bats as their primary source.

Yet, unbelievably, there has only ever been one other book dedicated to bats and the viruses these important creatures carry and that was 40 years ago in 1974.

Cover of a book with image of bat and viruses

The new book Bats and Viruses

Today brings the publication of a new dedicated volume, Bats and Viruses: A New Frontier of Emerging Infectious Diseases”, summarising the recent and rapid progress of research into bats and the viruses they harbour and the role bats play as hosts to many major zoonotic viruses.

The last 30 years has seen a rise in emerging infectious diseases in people, of which more than 75 per cent are zoonotic. This means that the disease in question normally exists in animals but has the potential to transmit to people. Zoonoses can be caused by many different infectious agents including bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Bats are being increasingly recognised as an important reservoir of zoonotic viruses of different families, including SARS coronavirus, Nipah virus, Hendra virus and Ebola virus. Understanding bats’ role in emerging zoonotic diseases is crucial to this rapidly expanding area of research.

As the only flying mammal on earth, the unique biological features of bats distinguish them from all other mammals. Recent studies suggest that bats’ ability to live longer and harbor a large number of viruses without displaying clinical diseases may in fact be related to the adaptation to flight.

While the physiology and biomechanics of bat flight and echolocation are relatively well understood, research on bat genomics and immunology are still in their infancy and a lot more work needs to be done to improve our knowledge in this area and potentially uncover a mechanism for disease prevention.

close up of a cell coloured with blue red and yellow

Bat cells infected with Hendra virus

With recent advances in next generation sequencing, the characterisation of bat viruses have undergone exponential growth, as evident from the detailed descriptions of major bat‐borne virus groups in the dedicated individual chapters including lyssaviruses, paramyxoviruses, coronaviruses, filoviruses and reoviruses, among others.

While such advances are exciting and represent great progress, many significant challenges remain. We are still as yet to isolate a live virus from bat specimens and our understanding of the true association between viruses and bats is yet to be proven. The need to understand the emergence of new human pathogens from wild reservoirs builds a strong case for the proper biological characterisation of both viruses and their natural hosts.

However, with the pace of discovery accelerating, we look forward to a new era of research on bats and their viruses with expansion to studies on bat borne bacteria and parasites.

Edited by leaders in the field, Bats and Viruses is a timely, invaluable reference for bat researchers studying microbiology, virology and immunology, as well as infectious disease workers and epidemiologists, among others.

The book’s editors are:

Professor Lin-Fa Wang, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore.

Christopher Cowled, Research Scientist at the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

2 comments

  1. I note from the PR about the new bat viruses book that it is stated that this is the first book dedicated to bats since 1972. This is incorrect. In 2000 Dr Les Hall and I wrote ‘Flying Foxes: Fruit and Blossom Bats of Australia. [University of New South Wales Press: Sydney] and in 2012 another book on the natural history of Australian bats through CSIRO Publishing. Just search for ‘bats’ on their website. I hope that you can correct this serious and misleading error. Regards – Greg Richards

    1. Dear Greg,
      Thank you for your comment about the number of books that have been published on bats. You are correct, there are many books published on bats, but not many on “bats and viruses” or “viruses from bats”. We apologise for our misleading statement and we have changed the text in the article to explain this more specifically. Thanks again, Fiona

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