Bat White-nose syndrome brevia

A Brevia piece in Science today describes efforts to describe the causal agent in white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats which appears to be contributing to bat decline. According to the authors, previous work had described an uncharacterized fungus associated with bats that showed signs of being sick with WNS. This is an emerging pathogen as the samples described in this paper were from Spring 2008. Phylogenetic analysis of the rDNA (and presumably ITS) sequence of fungal isolates from diseased bats placed it as a Geomyces spp, in the Helotiales order (in the Leotiomycetes if you are wondering what are the closest sequenced fungal genomes for this species). Other Geomyces spp are also psychrophiles and found colonizing the skin of animals in cold climates (it must be hard to make a living). The authors suggest the finding of this fungal species on bats is consistent with its involvement in disease. The authors also make the parallel to chytridiomycosis, an emerging pathogen of amphibians that is contributing to the worldwide amphibian decline.

This is just the first of hopefully several publications studying this phenomenon as this brief piece sets the stage for additional questions. It is not yet been shown that this fungus is actually causing the disease, i.e. satisfying Koch’s postulates, and isn’t just a canary in the coal mine. So-called opportunistic fungi like Aspergillus fumigatus, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Candida albicans cause infections that emerge after the patient’s immune system has been compromised by something else such as HIV or immunosuppressant drugs as part of an organ transplant regime. It is possible that the white-nose syndrome (ie white conidia from Geomyces sp is just a manifestation of an infection of a commensal organism like thrush or yeast infections of Candida albicans that only emerge when something else has knocked down the host’s immune system. I don’t know if this same Geomyces sp can be cultured from healthy bats from so-far uninfected colonies which would suggest the fungus is present all the time.

As we track and learn more about natural die-offs and disease in animals from infectious diseases there are series of recent fungal-associated disease of animal populations including honeybees perhaps from a virus and a microsporidium, frogs and amphibians via Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and white-nose syndrome. Diseases like Cryptococcus gattii are also examples of pathogens that may be able to infect healthy animals and humans. It seems quite important to know more important to track and study how these outbreaks spread and the evolutionary and ecological basis for the sudden rise in infection and mortality in animal populations to understand diseases of human relevance as well.

Related links:

D. S. Blehert, A. C. Hicks, M. Behr, C. U. Meteyer, B. M. Berlowski-Zier, E. L. Buckles, J. T. H. Coleman, S. R. Darling, A. Gargas, R. Niver, J. C. Okoniewski, R. J. Rudd, W. B. Stone (2008). Bat White-Nose Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen? Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1163874

4 thoughts on “Bat White-nose syndrome brevia”

  1. I don’t know if reptiles and amphibians pollinate anything, but having a plague on bats and bees simultaneously indicates a common origin connected with pollination. I would be looking at butterfly, hummingbird, and other pollinator populations for similar crashes in the works. Bats, reptiles, and amphibians eat a lot of insects though, and are especially important in protecting food-bearing plants from rampant insect populations. Another category of important food-protecting insect-eaters would be many fish, small birds, and spiders. I would also look at parasites, like mites, that could be common among bees, bats, etc.

    Looking at the dead bodies is one way to find a solution, but anticipating crashes in animal populations with similar ecological functions may lead to the uncovering of the root cause — probably emanating from an enlarging hole in the world’s ecology.

    I would hazard this guess: acid rain. Soil acidity has risen almost everywhere in the world, and as climate becomes more volatile and species wander in new ranges, species that are stressed by acid soil conditions will fall to diseases and competitors. Fish and amphibians, with such sensitive skin and close contact with water, have been shown the greatest stress under these conditions. Parasite and insect populations previously checked by these species then can attack bees, bats, and others. I would also look to migratory birds carrying contagions across the hemispheres as they freeze and thaw in more volatile ways.

    Geomyces pannorum could be associated with acid soils, and migration from arctic permafrost soils.
    http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/full/73/18/5817?view=long&pmid=17660302

  2. Alex, you’re almost there! I’m no scientist, researcher or zoologist – just a victim of toxic mold who wants to know why fungi are more prevalent as of late. I believe you’re correct in guessing that the fungus is secondary to compromised immune systems. It’s a no-brainer to figure out the fact that decades of toxins in the water, soil and air. have compromised every living creature. Maybe some of the chemicals that have rained down on these smaller creatures from chemtrails over the past decade or more have compromised them and changed their ph levels. It’s just taking a bit longer to extinguish human life. Snow is no longer snow, but a composition of moisture and chemicals. The mist is no longer a facial moisturizer, but a heavy-to-breathe toxic potion. Why do chemtrails gunk up a sky where there usually is no air traffic at all? Surveillance? I doubt it. Weather control? Doubtful too. I’ll leave you to ponder your own mind if it isn’t already clouded with toxic particulates.

  3. What is the life cycle of the WNS? I am taking a Micro course and chose this as my subject for my report. I have a lot of great information. Unfortunately I cannot find this anywhere. Can anyone help?

  4. I’m also doing research for a term paper, and I’m looking for information on any laws and policies that are currently in place regarding the spreading/halting of white nose syndrome? Any info or links would be greatly appreciated.

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