A majority of viruses that have caused recent epidemics with high lethality rates in people, are zoonoses originating from wildlife. Among them are filoviruses (e.g., Marburg, Ebola), coronaviruses (e.g., SARS, MERS), henipaviruses (e.g., Hendra, Nipah) which share the common features that they are all RNA viruses, and that a dysregulated immune response is an important contributor to the tissue damage and hence pathogenicity that results from infection in humans. Intriguingly, these viruses also all originate from bat reservoirs. Bats have been shown to have a greater mean viral richness than predicted by their phylogenetic distance from humans, their geographic range, or their presence in urban areas, suggesting other traits must explain why bats harbor a greater number of zoonotic viruses than other mammals. Bats are highly unusual among mammals in other ways as well. Not only are they the only mammals capable of powered flight, they have extraordinarily long life spans, with little detectable increases in mortality or senescence until high ages. Their physiology likely impacted their history of pathogen exposure and necessitated adaptations that may have also affected immune signaling pathways. Do our life history traits make us susceptible to generating damaging immune responses to RNA viruses or does the physiology of bats make them particularly tolerant or resistant? Understanding what immune mechanisms enable bats to coexist with RNA viruses may provide critical fundamental insights into how to achieve greater resilience in humans.
Keywords: bats (Chiroptera); comparative genome analyses; disease tolerance; host pathogen interaction; innate immunity; viral immunology.