If theres one question I get over and over and over and over on ERV, its this one:
What kind of viruses are in bat poop??
Until yesterday, I had no idea what to tell the millions of people sending me that Q. Thank GAWD daedalus2u sent me a link to this awesome paper!
While Im being silly about this, the viruses that infect bats are a really big deal. Im sure youve heard of rabies (if you find a bat in your house and it bites/scratches you, you need to go see a physician ASAP). But bats are also a problem with emerging viruses— SARS, Hendra, Menangle, Nipah, Ebola, all lyssaviruses (not just rabies)… They dont necessarily transmit these viruses directly to humans or our livestock/pets, but they play essential roles in these viruses epidemiology. Combine bats lifestyle (huge colonies, tight quarters, poop all over the place, fliers) with humans lifestyles (encroaching on and/or destroying other organisms habitats), and youve got a ticking viral time-bomb. We stopped SARS from becoming a big deal, but that dosent mean we wont be blindsided by something else.
One way we can give ourselves an advantage is studying the bat virome– what kinds of viruses are in/around/interact with bats? You could net a ton of bats and draw blood… :-/… or, you could scrape the bottom of a cave for some bat poop.
What this group found was expected, but amazing. Of course, there were bat/mammalian viruses in the bat poo. There are human/mammalian viruses in human poo. We expect this. But these made up a minority population of the viruses found!
The biggest group of viruses in the bat virome were… insect viruses, because bats eat a ton of insects! HA!
What else? Plant and fungal viruses, because the insects the bats ate ate a ton of plants/fungi! HA!
Oh, and they also found bacterial viruses (phage). Cause bacteria are everywhere, thus so are their viruses. HA!
They also found many, many viral sequences that were not in Genbank. We dont know what they are. That doesnt necessarily mean “OMFG UNAVOIDABLE PLAGUE WE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIE!!!” It means we havent sequenced a lot of the viruses that are out there. We usually just focus on the ones that cause us problems. Viruses in other organisms that dont cause us problems are going to be low on our ‘biochemical characterization’ to-do list… But they might cause us trouble in the future.
This was a really cool first step that might one day help us stop bat virus armageddon!
Or it might ‘only’ be a really cool first step in understanding this planets virome.