Science

Spraying bats with good bacteria may combat deadly white nose syndrome

A one-time spritz with a solution of beneficial bacteria may help bats infected with white nose syndrome survive the deadly disease.

Boosting the amount of naturally antifungal Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria that are already present on many bats skin allowed nearly half of the animals to live through winter, compared with only 8 percent surviving in an untreated group, a small study finds.

The cold-loving fungus responsible for white nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) has devastated North American bat populations. Since the disease arrived on the continent in 2006, it has wiped out more than 90 percent of most little brown bat colonies (Myotis lucifugus) in the northeastern United States, and is spreading west with infected bats (SN: 4/30/16, p. 20).

Infections disrupt the animals hibernation, causing them either to use up their fat stores and starve or to leave their winter shelters and die of exposure (SN Online: 1/5/15). Many infected bats dont make it until spring, when bats body temperatures and immune systems ramp up again, and the animals are more able to fight off fungal infections.

“Bats are really difficult to work with, so being able to pull out some meaningful results from this work was a huge win for us,” says ecologist Joseph Hoyt, who set up the experiment in a Wisconsin mine. The researchers learned from previous efforts by scientists to study probiotic treatments for amphibians to fight chytrid fungus infections, says Hoyt, of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Hoyt and colleagues used a strain of Pseudomonas found on bats that he and other researchers had identified in a 2015 study as being one of the most effective at reducing P. destructans fungi. Before starting the experiment, the team also determined that P. fluorescens or closely related bacteria were present already on 20 percent of bats in the mine — helping assure that the research wouldnt introduce microbes that could harm the animals environment.

In November 2015, the researchers caught 30 bats from the cave, spraying a solution on the wings and tails of 16 of them, and attaching transponders to their wings. The transponders triggered a sensor at the mine opening to let researchers know when a bat had left or entered, and thus, was no longer hibernating and was still alive. Three treated bats and one untreated bat were eliminated from the experiment after losing their transponders. Then, in early March, the researchers swabbed the wings of the surviving bats in both the treated and untreated groups for fungi, and a few months later, collected tRead More – Source

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