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Fruit Bats Could Hold Key To Curing Diabetes, Scientists Find

Researchers discover genetic adaptations in fruit bats that allow them to process high-sugar diets
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Fruit bats could hold the answer to curing diabetes, scientists have revealed. A high-sugar diet for humans can lead to diabetes, obesity and even cancer, but fruit bats survive and even thrive by eating up to twice their body weight in sugary fruit every day.


The team from the University of California San Francisco set out to discover how these superhero bats have evolved to consume so much sugar, and whether this skill can be transferred to diabetic humans.


“For me, bats are like superheroes, each one with an amazing superpower, whether it is echolocation, flying, blood-sucking without coagulation, or eating fruit and not getting diabetes,” said Dr. Nadav Ahituv.


“With diabetes, the human body can’t produce or detect insulin, leading to problems controlling blood sugar.

“But fruit bats have a genetic system that controls blood sugar without fail. We’d like to learn from that system to make better insulin- or sugar-sensing therapies for people.

“This kind of work is just the beginning.”

To discover exactly how these bats binge on sugar guilt-free Dr. Ahituv’s team focused on evolution in the bat pancreas, which controls blood sugar, and the kidneys. They found that the fruit bat’s pancreas has extra insulin-producing cells and genetic changes to help it process this immense amount of sugar and their kidneys had adapted to retain electrolytes.


Assistant Professor Wei Gordon added: “Even small changes, to single letters of DNA, make this diet viable for fruit bats.

“We need to understand high-sugar metabolism like this to make progress helping the one in three Americans who are prediabetic.” To get their results, published in Nature Communications, the team collaborated with scientists from a variety of institutions, ranging from Yonsei University in Korea to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

To find any adaptations they compared the Jamaican fruit bat to the big brown bat, which only eats insects. They discovered that the fruit bat’s DNA had evolved to turn on and off the appropriate genes for fruit metabolism.

“The organization of the DNA around the insulin and glucagon genes was very clearly different between the two bat species,” said Dr. Gordon.


“The DNA around genes used to be considered ‘junk,’ but our data shows that this regulatory DNA likely helps fruit bats react to sudden increases or decreases in blood sugar.

“It’s remarkable to step back from model organisms, like the laboratory mouse, and discover possible solutions for human health crises out in nature.

“Bats have figured it out, and it’s all in their DNA, the result of natural selection.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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