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Scientists find weakness in deadly fungus
January 8, 2018
Photo by Daniel Lindner, U.S. Forest Service
A little brown bat being checked for deadly white-nose syndrome.
A team of scientists studying a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or P. destructans, noticed something interesting: it lacks a key DNA repair enzyme.

P. destructans
is the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats in North America in the past decade, including North Idaho, and for which, so far, there has not been a successful treatment.

Photo by Brian Heeringa, U.S. Forest Service
Little brown bats hibernating.
The discovery prompted Jon Palmer and Dan Lindner of the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station and their partners, Kevin P. Drees and Jeffrey T. Foster of the University of New Hampshire, to begin exposing P. destructans and six related fungi to DNA damaging agents, and they discovered a possible Achilles’ heel in P. destructans: a brief exposure to UV-light is lethal to it.

The discovery could lead to treatments for what is potentially the most catastrophic wildlife disease of the century.

The fungal disease was first documented in 2006 in eastern North America, New York, and the fungus has advanced west across the continent, most recently being detected on the west coast. Research has identified that there was a single introduction of P. destructans into North America in 2006, which has since spread to 31 states, including an apparent long-distance jump to Washington state.

P. destructans
The fungus has a strict and cool temperature growth range and therefore can only infect bats during hibernation.

WNS can result in a 90-percent or greater mortality in local hibernating bat populations. Frequent arousal from hibernation, depletion of fat reserves and dehydration appear to contribute to mortality in infected bats.

P. destructans has been found throughout Eurasia and it occasionally causes mild WNS symptoms; however, no mass mortality events have been observed in Eurasia. The fungus has spread in a “bulls eye” pattern in North America and has only been found in environments where WNS-infected bats are found, strongly suggesting that the fungus is not native to North America.

The study, which was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was published in the journal Nature Communications and is available by clicking here.
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