North American bats affected by white-nose syndrome
White-nose syndrome (WNS) has had catastrophic effects on bat populations in North America, with millions of bats from several species dying. Students in the Field and Reeder labs are studying how the cold-loving fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), affects bats while they hibernate. By learning which specific types of immune responses Myotis lucifugus (little brown bats) can mount and the consequences of these immune responses, we hope to better understand bat immune physiology and the role of immune responses in WNS. With support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, we hope that these studies will lead to the development of treatment strategies that can mitigate this potential extinction crisis. We are using a combination of approaches to determine how different bat species respond to Pd infection. Students in my lab are using whole-transcriptome approaches with next-generation sequencing (RNA-Seq). We also use quantitative PCR to measure the expression of specific genes and functional assays of memory immune responses. Because some species of bats are resistant to WNS (particularly European bats), we hope to identify protective responses that could then be augmented in susceptible species to promote WNS survival. We are also studying remnant bat populations in Pennsylvania to determine how some small groups of little brown bats have adapted to living with WNS.
Hibernation and immune responses
Bats are unique among mammals due to the metabolic demands of flight. In North America and Europe they are highly seasonal, using migration and/or hibernation to survive temperate winters. Bats are ecologically important animals because of their role as nocturnal predators of insects. For these reasons, I am interested in understanding the immune responses of bats and how their immune physiology compares to other hibernating and non-hibernating mammals. Together with the Reeder lab, my students are studying how hibernation affects immune function and gene expression.
Zoonotic diseases in bats
Fruit bats in Africa are reservoirs for many viral diseases that can spill over to humans including Ebola, Marburg, Nipah, and Hendra viruses. Students in the Field and Reeder labs are using next-generation RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to understand immune physiology and other metabolic processes within bats that contribute to disease spread. With support from the National Institutes of Health, we will determine how differences in gene expression influence immune competence as a function of time of year, sex, age, and reproductive status. We will use this information to better understand how bats serve as disease vectors, to mitigate zoonotic disease outbreaks, and to prevent potential spillover events by predicting conditions that favor disease transmission.
Undergraduate Research Projects
Bucknell students interested in conducting research with Prof. Field should contact him by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org ) to arrange an appointment. Opportunities are available for summer research or for Biol 399 research. Most research projects span at least two semesters and the summer so interested students should become involved in their sophomore or junior year. Students are expected to complete Advanced Data Analysis in Biology (Biol 364) while enrolled in research.
Bats could help us better understand coronavirus infections, as described in an article by Tom Avril in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Bats carry coronaviruses but don’t get sick. Could their secret help us fight COVID-19?” The article describes the work being done in Prof. Field’s and Prof. Reeder’s labs at Bucknell and how bats have a unique evolutionary history with coronaviruses.
Professors Field and Reeder were recently awarded a National Science Foundation RAPID Grant, “Immune Responses to CoV Infections in African and North American Bats.” The $200,000 grant will be used to study whether bats hold a secret to getting infected with coronaviruses without getting as sick as humans. Using samples collected over the past five years and stockpiled in freezers at Bucknell, they will be looking to see which coronaviruses infect these bats and how the bats respond to them.
Our collaboration with Thomas Lilley, Steve Patterson and others was published in G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics, “Genome-Wide Changes in Genetic Diversity in a Population of Myotis lucifugus Affected by White-Nose Syndrome.” Combined with a couple of other similar studies, we are starting to understand how white-nose syndrome might be selecting for bats that are less susceptible, similar to what may have happened millennia ago in Eurasian bats.
The Bucknell Batlab contributed to 5 papers published in 2018-19: Oecologia Resistance is futile: RNA-sequencing reveals differing responses to bat fungal pathogen in Nearctic Myotis lucifugus and Palearctic Myotis myotis TM Lilley, et al. Science Evidence for hormonal control of heart regenerative capacity during endothermy acquisition K Hirose, et al. Molecular Ecology Effect of torpor on host transcriptomic responses to a fungal pathogen in hibernating bats KA Field, et al. Ecology and Evolution Quantification of pathogen levels is necessary to compare responses to pathogen exposure: Comment on Davy et al. KA Field Journal of Wildlife Diseases Bats recovering from white-nose syndrome elevate metabolic […]
Two recent articles have highlighted the work we are doing with Dan Lindner and Jon Palmer at the US Forest Service: Battling a Deadly Bat Fungus in Chemical & Engineering News Bats May Be Poised for a Comeback From White-Nose Syndrome in Sierra Hopefully we will have something to report from that study soon!
First, our study of the immune response in little brown bats infected with P. destructans came out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Second, our paper describing the differences in how WNS affects susceptible little brown bats and resistant big brown bats was just published in Journal of Comparative Physiology B. Third, our paper that shows the changes in gene expression when P. destructans is infecting bats compared to when it grows in culture is in press at Virulence. Exciting times for the Bucknell bat lab!
Our first paper studying the remnant bat populations that are persisting in the face of white-nose syndrome has been covered all over the news, thanks to an excellent article written by Michael Hill of the Associated Press. Here are a few of the links (of about 1,080 results as of Apr 13, according to Google): CBS News The Enterprise News in Brief
The Washington Post has an article up here that isn’t very scientifically accurate or well edited, but it does convey the excitement of the discoveries that we made. Phys.org has a nice story here. The Wildlife Society wrote an excellent description of this study here.
Really excited about this paper — http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1005168 This was a huge project and I am grateful for all the help the we received to carry it out.
Our study showing that antibodies to the WNS-causing fungus do not provide protection from WNS is out. You can find the full text here: Ecology and Evolution. Congratulations to Joe, who worked hard on this paper, despite its somewhat disappointing conclusion.
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