CELLS CAN SURVIVE SURGES IN METABOLISMProfessor Linfa Wang. Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS, from Hong Kong claims "The most outstanding difference we've seen between bats and other mammals has to do with DNA repair. If the science is as true as we think it is, we can unlock the mechanisms and it can have a huge, huge impact.". So what is all this about and what impact does it have on humans, one might ask?
Well, for one, the secret to longevity may be unlocked soon with all the ongoing research. Studies have shown that the secret to bats' longevity may be linked to their ability to harbour viruses that are deadly to other animals.
Other than the fact that bats are found to be vectors of diseases such as Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, recently published scientific evidences point to their unique responses to genetic wear and tear, ageing and diseases like cancer. Their low rates of cancer, ability to carry deadly viruses without suffering from it and ability in DNA repair have been proven to be astounding.
Coming to existence about 50 million years ago and with about 1,100 species across the globe, bats are known to be conduits to spread zoonoses or diseases from vertebrates to humans. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, zoonotic diseases account for 60% of new infectious diseases. The viruses are speculated to be latent in the bat carriers which are then transmitted to other mammals, which are genetically closer to or have greater exposure to humans, that subsequently passed on the viruses to humans. A recent classic example is that of SARS, where the diseases was probably passed on to civet cats followed by humans.
The bats' unique abilities may lie with their adaptation of their hearts to switch from just a mere 10 beats per minute during hibernation to 1,000 beats when they are in flight. Physiologically, when this happens, the host's metabolism surges resulting in a lethal and sudden shortage of oxygen while at the same time producing large amounts of toxic metabolic by-products that damage DNA.
In essence, bats cope better with DNA damage repair, are carriers of viruses, have less cancer and typically live longer probably because all these are likely to be interrelated and expressions of a common denominator.