"P. destructans appears to create an environment that should degrade the structure of keratin, the main protein in skin," Raudabaugh said. It has enzymes that break down urea and proteins that produce a highly alkaline environment that could burn the skin, he said. Infected bats often have holes in their skin, which can increase their susceptibility to other infections.
The fungus can subsist on other proteins and lipids on the bats' skin, as well as glandular secretions, the researchers said.
"P. destructans can tolerate naturally occurring inhibitory sulfur compounds, and elevated levels of calcium have no effect on fungal growth," Raudabaugh said.
The only significant limitation of the fungus besides temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius has to do with its ability to take up water, Raudabaugh said. Its cells are leaky, making it hard for the fungus to absorb water from surfaces, such as dry wood, that have a tendency to cling to moisture. But in the presence of degraded fats or free fatty acids, like those found on the skin of living or dead animals, the fungus can draw up water more easily, he said.
"All in all the news for hibernating bats in the U.S. is pretty grim," Miller said.
"When the fungus first showed up here in Illinois earlier this year we went from zero to 80 percent coverage in a little more than a month," he said. The team led by U. of I. researchers that discovered the fungus in the state found a single infected bat in one northern Illinois cave, he said. Several weeks later most of the bats in that cave were infected.
Although many studies have been done on the fungal genome and on the bats, Miller said, Raudabaugh is the first to take an in-depth look at the basic biology of the fungus.
"Dan found that P. destructans can live perfectly happily off the remains of most org
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign