It may also help them tolerate viruses.
A study has suggested that rapid evolution may be the reason why bats are able to avoid cancer, and also tolerate viral infections like SARS-CoV-2.
The researchers aimed to investigate bats’ low cancer rates and robust immune system, with the theory that it may have implications for human health. For example, performing comparative genomic analysis of bats against mammals that are susceptible to cancer may lead to new discoveries on the causes of cancer, and its links with immunity.
It could also further our understanding of why bats are tolerant to zoonotic viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, before they get passed onto humans. This could lead to work that may better prevent disease outbreaks from animals to people.
The investigation involved the researchers using the Oxford Nanopores Technologies long-read platform to sequence the genomes of two bat species, the Jamaican fruit bat and the Mesoamerican mustached bat, which have key evolutionary positions.
They then conducted a comparative genomic analysis with a diverse collection of bats and other mammals.
This found genetic adaptations in six DNA repair-related proteins and 46 proteins in bats that were cancer-related. It revealed that these altered cancer-related genes were twice as enriched in the bats compared to other mammals.
The analysis identified antiviral genes that showed evidence of rapid evolution. There were also positive selection signs in 33 tumour suppressors and 6 DNA-repair genes which may contribute to bats’ increased longevity and reduced cancer rates.
This shows that the immune systems of bats rely on bat-wide and lineage-specific evolution among their genes, which suggests diverse immune strategies.
Armin Scheben, the lead author, said: “By generating these new bat genomes and comparing them to other mammals we continue to find extraordinary new adaptations in antiviral and anticancer genes,
“These investigations are the first step towards translating research on the unique biology of bats into insights relevant to understanding and treating aging and diseases, such as cancer, in humans.”
The full study can be found in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal.
Image © Shutterstock