White-nose syndrome is a fatal disease that has devastated bat populations in parts of the United States and Canada. In a recent study published by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, a surprising result regarding treatment and eradication of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the psychrophilic fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, was obtained. When exploring the disease using genetic methods, it was noted that exposure to UV-light kills Pseudogymnoascus destructans.
The primary scientists involved in these studies are USDA scientists Jon Palmer (Research Botanist based in Madison, WI) and Daniel Lindner (Research Plant Pathologist based in Madison, WI) and University of New Hampshire scientists Kevin P. Drees and Jeffery T. Foster. These scientists initially noted P. destructans only infected bats during hibernation because the fungus has rigid temperature requirements for growth 39-68 °F. It was later noted that the fungus is unable to repair DNA damage done by UV light. This early study was funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and published in Nature Communications. It went on to explain that the fungus likely evolved with bat species in Europe and Asia allowing them to evolve defenses against the fungus while American bats have no defense. However, a moderate dose of UV-C light for a few seconds results in <1% survival of the fungus.
Research on this topic is ongoing, with additional funds provided by Bats for the Future to examine survival of little brown bat colonies exposed to UV-C light during hibernation compared to unexposed colonies. The study will also examine potential non-target effects such as changes in bat skin microbes and bacteria. This breakthrough could lead to the long-term survival of our bat colonies.
Online article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180102153209.htm
Publication: Jonathan M. Palmer, Kevin P. Drees, Jeffrey T. Foster, Daniel L. Lindner. Extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light in the fungal pathogen causing white-nose syndrome of bats. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02441-z
Previous GotNature article: https://ag.purdue.edu/fnr/GotNature/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=238.
Shaneka Lawson, USDA Forest Service/HTIRC Research Plant Physiologist/Adjunct Assistant Professor
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources