Bats are surprisingly like us. Their immune system is similar to ours, yet bats carry a diversity of viruses including the coronavirus, without showing signs of the disease. We also know that the SaRS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 shares a 96% genetic similarity with a coronavirus found in bats. Again no symptoms in the bat.
One clue maybe that bats have a higher body temperature and we know that in people, a fever is one response the body uses to fight off a viral infection. We also know that bats are better at producing interferon that the immune system produces to protect itself from viral infections.
If we can understand what is happening in bats and how they developed a biological truce with certain viruses, we may be able to identify strategies and pathways we need to target to enhance human responses to the virus.
Karen Mossmsan is a Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and acting Vice-President of Research at McMaster University. She has been studying how viruses evade the immune defences of the host animal. She also knows a lot about bats because the flying mammal is known to be a source for coronaviruses that can be spread to people.
She recently received a CIHR grant to learn more about the relationship between humans, bats, and the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19. She talked with freelance broadcaster Don Hill.