SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2016

Scientists find bats host malaria parasites and other dangerous pathogens

Scientists identified four genera of parasites closely related to the malaria pathogen in West African bats, which could help to advance the understanding of the disease, according to a recent study.

Scientists with the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin found that West African bats can harbor a large number of blood parasites. Bats have a strong immune system that can hold diseases ranging from Ebola virus to the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in check. Such infections can be deadly in humans.

In the study, the researchers examined 31 bat species from the West African forest in the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Guinea and found that 40 percent of the animals carried parasites of the genera Hepatocystis, Nycteria, Polychromophilus and Plasmodium. At least two species of Plasmodium can be found in bats and are similar to the ones found in rodents. Plasmodium parasites cause malaria.

The researchers compared DNA to determine that bats were the first mammal hosts for the protozoan parasites before they switched to rodents and primates.

Studying the protozoan parasites in bats may help the scientists to determine how the pathogens adapt to new organisms and how the immune systems of the organisms respond. Since parasites found in bats are similar to the ones in rodents and mouse models are used in studies focusing on antimalarial vaccines, scientists may be able to transfer parasites from bats to mice to study the pathogens more closely.