Scientists Discover Tissue-Degrading Enzyme in White-Nose Syndrome in Bats

First Posted: May 05, 2015 01:27 PM EDT

Scientists may have learned a bit more about white-nose syndrome, which could be huge in terms of helping the bats infected by it. Researchers have learned the likely way that white-nose syndrome breaks down tissue in bats, which could open the door to potential treatments.

In less than 10 years, white-nose syndrome has spread to 26 states and five provinces in Canada, killing almost all of the bats in some locations. A single bat eats up to 4,500 insects each night, which means that the decline of these animals is impacting the surrounding ecosystem.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that was imported from Europe. It thrives in cold caves where bats hibernate, and can rip through bat populations in America. It breaks down the tissue in the bats' wings while they sleep.

In this case, the researchers found an enzyme that could digest collagen, which forms the support structure of tissue. Naming the enzyme Destructin-1, the scientists then tested the enzyme against the inhibitor, chymostatin. While the inhibitor could protect against most of the collagen from being broken down, it couldn't cover all of it.

"It suggests the fungus is exporting other substances that can degrade collagen," said Richard Bennett, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The researchers hope to examine other treatments that may work against this enzyme. While it's unknown whether these findings will be enough to save many bats, it's a huge step forward to helping halt the spread of white-nose syndrome.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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