Bats make up 20% of the all extant mammalian species and exhibit many traits that are rarely found in mammals. For example, they are the only flying mammals which has forced their immune systems to become very specialized. Healthy bats often escape pathogenicity after infection from viruses that can be deadly for humans but the exact mechanics of how bats cope with these pathogens is poorly understood. Uncovering the secrets of the bat immune system might teach us how to deal with pathogens when they spillover to humans or other species. With the aim to uncover the secrets hidden in the bat genomes, Bat1K project is currently generating high-quality genomes of at least one representative species of all 21 bat families with the goal of eventually sequencing all ~1300 bat species.
During Plant and Animal Genomes Conference (PAGXXVIII), Dr.Michael Hiller from Max Planck Institute Dresden, covered the technologies Bat1K project is using to generate reference quality assemblies of six bats species. Along with generating highly complete gene annotations, they uncovered a group of genes that have been selected and might have supported the evolution of echolocation. Genome-wide screens for gene duplications, gene loss and patterns of positive selection shared among bats uncovered important changes in immunity-related genes, including NFκB regulating factors. Overall, high-quality genome assemblies and annotations and our comparative genomic methods provide a foundation to learn the secrets behind bats’ extraordinary traits.