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Unlocking the Mystery of Bats and Viruses

Researchers have transformed adult bat cells into versatile stem cells, which can be transformed into many kinds of tissue. This could offer an easier way to study the relationship between bats and viruses, as they are notorious for hosting more viruses that are dangerous to people but not themselves. Researchers studying this question have been hampered by the fact that getting bat samples to study in the lab is difficult. To sidestep this problem, scientists had to find a way to create bat stem cells that could be kept in the lab and differentiated, as needed, into specific kinds of tissue.

The advance, described in Cell, is good news for bat scientists as the stem cell technique could help to conduct similar sequence-hunting studies in a wide range of other mammals, “and see if bats really are above average in this sense”. The study noticed something interesting – active viral sequences are present in the bat iPS cells.

The researchers propose that bats don’t restrain these active sequences because their replication may act as a defense strategy against other viruses or as a kind of self-vaccination. However, this remains speculation for now as scientists have proposed before that viruses and bats have a symbiotic relationship, and it is hard to prove.

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