A ray of hope for bats in North America.

Photo: USFWSmidwest, flickr creative commons.

Photo: USFWSmidwest, flickr creative commons.

A graduate student and his team may have found a way to fight white-nose syndrome, the deadly disease that has killed millions of bats in North America.

Joseph Hoyt grew samples of the fungus that cause white-nose syndrome at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then introduced bacteria collected in the field to the samples. Hoyt and his team collected a total of 40 bacteria samples from the skin of four bat species.

Out of the 40 samples, six slowed down growth of the fungus considerably, especially two bacterial isolates, which suppressed the fungal growth for more than 35 days.

If the researchers are successful, a bacterial spray could be applied to the bats during hibernation, suppressing the fungus enough for the bats to survive the winter.

The team is now running live tests on healthy bats, exposing them to the disease and then the treatment, and closely monitoring them. If the results are promising the researchers will try a small field experiment where they treat sick bats.

Hoyt is hopeful that field treatments will be successful, given the fact that the natural defensive bacteria is already present on the bats, so exposing them to a higher dosage could prove beneficial.  

The Little Brown Myotis, the Northern Myotis, and the Tri-coloured bat are all listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada, due to their decline caused by white-nose syndrome.

The bats are able to move up to 300 kilometres and can visit multiple hibernation sites per year, contributing greatly to the spread of the disease. White-nose syndrome has now travelled as far west as Thunder Bay, Ontario, and could easily spread to the neighbouring province of Manitoba.

Although there is no way to completely eradicate the fungus, slowing the spread and reducing the impact of the disease will give these bats a fighting chance.