A Secret Weapon in Preventing the Next Pandemic: Fruit Bats

by | Feb 7, 2023 | Health

More than four dozen Jamaican fruit bats destined for a lab in Bozeman, Montana, are set to become part of an experiment with an ambitious goal: predicting the next global pandemic.

Bats worldwide are primary vectors for virus transmission from animals to humans. Those viruses often are harmless to bats but can be deadly to humans. Horseshoe bats in China, for example, are cited as a likely cause of the covid-19 outbreak. And researchers believe pressure put on bats by climate change and encroachment from human development have increased the frequency of viruses jumping from bats to people, causing what are known as zoonotic diseases.

“Spillover events are the result of a cascade of stressors — bat habitat is cleared, climate becomes more extreme, bats move into human areas to find food,” said Raina Plowright, a disease ecologist and co-author of a recent paper in the journal Nature and another in Ecology Letters on the role of ecological changes in disease.

That’s why Montana State University immunologist Agnieszka Rynda-Apple plans to bring the Jamaican fruit bats to Bozeman this winter to start a breeding colony and accelerate her lab’s work as part of a team of 70 researchers in seven countries. The group, called BatOneHealth — founded by Plowright — hopes to find ways to predict where the next deadly virus might make the leap from bats to people.

“We’re collaborating on the question of why …

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