White Nose Syndrome Detected Earlier In Bats Thanks To Better DNA Analysis
March 14, 2013

White Nose Syndrome Detected Earlier In Bats Thanks To Better DNA Analysis

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Researchers studying White Nose Syndrome (WNS) identified a fungus called Geomyces destructans as the cause of the devastating disease, but until now have been unable to detect it without finding dead or dying bats.

New research by a team of US Forest Service scientists and partners has identified additional species of Geomyces.

The study, published in the journal Mycologia, describes the development of a highly sensitive DNA-based technique for early identification of the fungus on bats as well as in soils and on cave walls.

“The significance of the Forest Service´s recent research will have an immediate and direct benefit to WNS response at a national scale,” according to Katie Gillies, imperiled species coordinator at Bat Conservation International. “This will allow managers to sample soil and substrates to test for the presence of Geomyces destructans, freeing up limited surveillance funds and time. Additionally, this opens the door to examine the use of gene silencing as a control mechanism for this devastating fungus. Research like this, that directly benefits resource managers and guides us to controlling this fungus, is critically needed.”

Research led by Daniel Lindner, a research plant pathologist with the Forest Service´s Northern Research Station, identified 35 species of Geomyces, more than doubling the number of known species. Lindner and his colleagues used those results to develop a DNA-based detection test for Geomyces destructans that is more sensitive and more accurate than past tests.

“At best, only 5 to 10 percent of fungal species on earth have been named and scientifically described,” Lindner said. “Developing a specific test for this fungus was difficult because we found that every sample from bats and caves contained a huge diversity of unidentified, unnamed fungi, and these were interfering with detection.”

First identified in Upstate New York in 2006, WNS has spread to caves throughout the East Coast and has killed millions of bats. The disease continues to spread unchecked.

“White Nose Syndrome is arguably the most devastating wildlife disease we´ve faced,” Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service´s Northern Research Station, said in a statement. “Forest Service scientists are conducting research to halt this disease and save bats, which are so important to agriculture and forest ecosystems.”

Geomyces destructans was identified as the cause of WNS in 2011. However, conclusively identifying the fungus in soil or on a bat has proven both difficult and time consuming. Varieties of Geomyces species thrive in environments where bats hibernate, creating the potential for false positives with previous DNA testing. Those previous tests also lack sensitivity, making it more likely to miss the fungus in some samples. The new test developed by Lindner's team is 100-times more sensitive and able to detect a single spore of the fungus.

Lindner's partners in research, and co-authors on the paper include David Blehert and Laura Muller of the U.S. Geological Survey´s National Wildlife Health Center, Jeffrey Lorch of the University of Wisconsin, Andrea Gargas of Symbiology LLC, and Michael O´Conner of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostics Lab.