Halloween Highlights: Spooktacular Science in PLOS ONE

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October is here, which means the holiday season is almost upon us – starting, of course, with Halloween. PLOS ONE doesn’t publish much in the way of goblins, ghouls, or ghosts, but we realized that we do have quite a few spook-inducing papers, so to get you in the holiday spirit, we are bringing you some of our creepiest papers over the course of the month. Today we start with a Halloween icon: bats.

Bats may not be vampires in disguise, but even so, their bite can be dangerous. Bats host and transmit a number of diseases that affect humans, and these pathogens seem to be infecting bats in expanding habitats, specifically Europe. In June, a team of researchers identified the first cases of European bats carrying a virus from a large family called paramyxovirus, members of which are responsible for a number of human and animal diseases, including mumps and measles. Bats carrying this family of viruses had previously only been found in Africa, Australia, South America, and Asia.

A second study from some of the same authors, published in August, reported three novel viruses called orthoreoviruses isolated from European bats. These viruses have not been shown to cause disease in humans, but the authors suggest that their zoonotic potential should be investigated further. A final similar example, also published in August, describes the isolation of a previously unknown bat papillomavirus in Hong Kong.

Despite these potential dangers, it’s also important to note that bats do much good for the ecosystem, including eating lots of pesky bugs, pollinating plants, distributing fruit seeds, and providing valuable guano fertilizer. They’re not so creepy either, really. And sadly, they are currently struggling against a mysterious affliction called White-nose syndrome, which appears to disrupt their hibernation and has been  charged with the deaths of millions of bats in the US and Canada.

Regardless of whether you think bats are creepy or cute, dangerous or misunderstood, it’s unlikely that they’ll kick their eerie associations anytime soon, so here’s to kicking off a month of spooktacular science.

Citations:

Kurth A, Kohl C, Brinkmann A, Ebinger A, Harper JA, et al. (2012) Novel Paramyxoviruses in Free-Ranging European Bats. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38688. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038688

Kohl C, Lesnik R, Brinkmann A, Ebinger A, Radonić A, et al. (2012) Isolation and Characterization of Three Mammalian Orthoreoviruses from European Bats. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043106

Tse H, Tsang AKL, Tsoi H-W, Leung ASP, Ho C-C, et al. (2012) Identification of a Novel Bat Papillomavirus by Metagenomics. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43986. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043986

Reeder DM, Frank CL, Turner GG, Meteyer CU, Kurta A, et al. (2012) Frequent Arousal from Hibernation Linked to Severity of Infection and Mortality in Bats with White-Nose Syndrome. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38920. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038920

Image credit: Taylor PJ, Stoffberg S, Monadjem A, Schoeman MC, Bayliss J, et al. (2012) Four New Bat Species (Rhinolophus hildebrandtii Complex) Reflect Plio-Pleistocene Divergence of Dwarfs and Giants across an Afromontane Archipelago. PLoS ONE 7(9): e41744. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041744 

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