ScienceShot: Case Closed on Bat Fungus

A potential bat killer is guilty as charged. Scientists say they've finally fingered the culprit behind the deadly bat disease known as white nose syndrome: the fungus Geomyces destructans. Disease experts had previously cultured the fungus from the white dustings that cover the noses and wings of infected bats (shown). But it wasn't clear whether the potential pathogen was the main cause of the epidemic, which has spread plaguelike throughout the northeastern United States, or just a side effect. In a study published online today in Nature, researchers spread G. destructans samples onto healthy little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), and all developed tell-tale lesions within several months. The fungus also seems to pass from bat-to-bat on contact: Close to 90% of healthy bats mixed in with sick cohorts in the lab developed white nose syndrome in just about 100 days. Effective treatments for this rapidly spreading contagion are a long way off, the group says. Still, unveiling the killer may make this Halloween a little less frightful for North American bats.

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