Scientists have deciphered the genetic blueprints of six of the world’s bats.
Their codes of life contain genetic clues to their “exceptional immunity”, which protects them against deadly viruses.
Researchers hope to use the information to crack the secrets of how bats carry coronaviruses without getting sick.
They say this may ultimately provide solutions to help human health during this and future pandemics.
Prof Emma Teeling of University College Dublin said the “exquisite” genome sequences they have unravelled suggest bats have “unique immune systems”.
And understanding how bats can tolerate viruses without getting sick could help in the development of new treatments for viruses such as Covid-19.
“If we could mimic the immune response of bats to viruses, that allows them to tolerate them, then you could look to nature to find a cure,” she told BBC News.
“It’s already evolved, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We now have the tools to be able to understand the steps we need to take; we need to develop the drugs to do it.”
Prof Teeling is the co-founder of theBat1K project, which aims to decode the genomes of all 1,421 living bat species.
“These genomes are the tools needed to identify the genetic solutions evolved in bats that ultimately could be harnessed to alleviate human ageing and disease,” she said.
Covid-19 is thought to have arisen in bats, passing to humans through another, as yet unidentified, animal. A number of other diseases, including Sars, Mers and Ebola, are thought to have jumped to humans this way.
Ecologists and conservationists have warned that bats should not be persecuted; when left undisturbed in their natural habitats, they pose little risk to human health.
And they are vital for the balance of nature. Many are pollinators, dispersing the seeds from fruit, and others are in