UW-Madison Scientists Pinpoint Cause of Lethal Bat Fungus

by Pallav Regmi, age 14

Recently, scientists from The US National Wildlife Health Center in Madison helped prove that a fungus is causing the deadly white-nose syndrome in bats.

The fungus, called Geomyces Destructans (G. Destructans), is a disease that is killing bats while they hibernate during the winter.  Named for the white fungus that covers the noses and wings of infected bats, white-nose syndrome increasingly threatens bat populations.  The fungus was tested on healthy bats to investigate the cause of the disease that is slowly destroying the North American bat population.

The research showed that 100 percent of fully healthy bats exposed to G. Destructans acquired the white-nose syndrome.  Identifying the disease’s agent is the first step to finding its cure and can also help scientists predict how far and how fast the disease will spread.

White-nose syndrome first appeared around 2006 in New York State, and since then has spread south and west.  The syndrome has been found in 16 states and four Canadian provinces.  The northeast United States is the most severely affected region. About 80 percent of the bat population has died in theses states. Strangely, the disease does not appear lethal to European bats.

The North American bat population is an important asset to the agriculture industry. Bats save the U.S. agriculture industry billions of dollars by eating insects and other pests that attack crops.  Bats are a necessary part of our ecosystem, our natural environment, and our economy.

[Sources: WI State Journal; www.whitenosesyndrome.org]