White-nose syndrome is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The infection attacks bats during their winter hibernation, leaving them weakened and susceptible to starvation as well as to secondary infections. The disease is called “white-nose” because it appears as a white, powdery substance on the muzzles, ears and wings of infected bats.
According to Digital Journal’s Karen Graham, the disease has killed off over seven million bats in the eastern U.S. since it mysteriously appeared 10 years ago.
In a new development, a virus has been discovered that infects the fungus and knowing this will allow scientists and conservationists to track the route of the fungus and to identify vulnerable bat populations. Because there are regional variations with the virus, this could provide clues to help researchers better understand the epidemiology of the disease.
Identification of the virus came from an examination of 62 isolates of the fungus, including 35 from the U.S., 10 from Canada and 17 from Europe. Importantly the virus was only found in the U.S. samples. Explaining the importance further, Marilyn Roossinck, who is professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State and involved with the discovery, said: “the virus it harbors has quite a bit of variation. For example, in all the fungal isolates from Pennsylvania we analyzed, the viruses are similar. But those viruses differ from the ones we found in isolates from Canada, New York and so forth.”
The discovery of the virus is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, in a paper called “.Using a Novel Partitivirus in Pseudogymnoascus destructans to Understand the Epidemiology of White-Nose Syndrome”
In addition, treatments are being tested. One seeks to inhibit an enzyme secreted by the fungus. The fungus feeds by exporting a digestive enzyme and then importing the break-down products (a process termed extracellular digestion.) This enzyme has been named Destructin-1; and by characterizing it an inhibitor for the enzyme can be sourced.