Sunday, April 3, 2016

White-Nose Syndrome and the Threat to America's Bat Population

Last March, a veterinarian in Washington state made an alarming discovery while examining a dead bat. The animal showed clear signs of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease which has killed upwards of 7 million bats in the eastern United States. The illness, which is caused by the fungus  Pseudogymnoascus destructans, had never been detected in bats on the west coast, and the recent discovery in Washington has scientists scrambling for answers. White-nose syndrome affects bats during hibernation and causes severe damage to tissues and causes physiological problems often leading the death of the infected animal. In the past ten years, it has been detected in bat populations in 28 states and Canada. Scientists had originally believed the fungus was restricted to the eastern part of the country, however the discovery in Washington has demonstrated that efforts to contain the disease have not been effective. In an effort to prevent the spread of the fungus, officials put regulations in place to keep fungal spores out of caves and away from healthy bat populations. The discovery of white-nose syndrome in the western United States has presented officials with not only a mystery to solve, but also a serious issue that must be addressed immediately. Scientists are now working to sequence the genome of the Washington fungus in order to compare it to the genome of the eastern Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The goal is to determine how the fungus managed to travel across the country and infect healthy bat populations in the west. Immediate steps must also be taken to determine the extent of damage to Washington bat populations in an effort to prevent further spreading of the fungus. If Pseudogymnoascus destructans continues to spread across the United States and unless scientists are able to quickly identify a solution, there is high potential for catastrophic damage to the North American bat population.

Bradley Sarasin (Group 3)

Source: NH Voice

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