Bats have a secret up their little sleeves – they’re full of viruses that would ruin a human’s day, but they somehow avoid getting seriously ill.

Now scientists have identified a protein that might be helping bats avoid viral sickness, and which could even be used to help fight inflammatory diseases in humans.

“Bats have attracted great attention as a likely reservoir of the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Professor Wang Lin-Fa, a microbiologist from Duke University.

“But this unique ability to host — yet survive — viral infections could also have a very positive impact on human health if we can understand and exploit how they achieve this.”

The research, which has been published in Cell, looked specifically at a protein called ASC2 which works to reduce the effect of a special type of immune molecule called an inflammasome.

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Although the inflammasomes of bats are quite different to other mammals, this new research suggests that ASC2 works on bats, mice and even humans.

“The high-level activity of ASC2 is a key mechanism by which bats keep inflammation under control, with implications for their long lifespan and unique status as a reservoir for viruses,” explained Duke University clinician Dr Matae Ahn.

When the researchers examined the ASC2 protein in detail, four amino acids were identified which were key to making the bat protein more effective at dampening inflammation and they were able to show ASC2 could also be effective in other mammals.

“Expression of the bat protein in genetically-modified mice dampened inflammation and reduced the severity of the diseases driven by various triggers, including viruses,” said first author Vivian Chen.

The research has been published in Cell.

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