A new spray may help treat the deadly white-nose syndrome
Bats are being subjected to a deadly plague that may be threatening their existence. However, a new bacterial spray may help fight the fungus responsible.
- Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed millions and millions of bats, threatening many species with extinction.
- Bats may not be everybody's idea of a cute and cuddly animal, but losing them would be devastating to the ecosystem.
- Fortunately, researchers are hard at work trying to uncover a means of dealing with this fungal disease. One such treatment is the use of the antifungal bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens.
Since arriving in North America in 2006, Pseuodgymnoascus destructans has been wreaking havoc in bat populations. The fuzzy white fungus rapidly infects bats, tending to cluster around the nocturnal mammals' noses. Hence, the disease it causes is best known as white-nose syndrome.
Once P. destructans infects a bat colony, it wipes out about 90 percent of the colony on average. By agitating bats during the winter months when they're meant to be hibernating, P. destructans forces them to emerge early and expend the energy they need to get through the winter. As a result, the cold-loving fungus has killed millions and millions of bats since 2006. Bats may not be the cutest or most popular animal out there, but the sheer scale of this plague threatens to drive bat species to extinction and thoroughly throw our ecosystem out of whack.
"This disease has really just been devastating," said ecologist Joseph Hoyt. "We've essentially removed our dominant nighttime insect predator." That's why Hoyt and colleagues conducted an experiment in a Wisconsin mine to test out a new treatment for white-nose syndrome: Pseudomonas fluorescens, an inherently antifungal bacteria. Through their efforts, described in Scientific Reports, Hoyt's team were able to increase survivorship in bats by more than fivefold.
Spraying bats with beneficial bacteria
A little brown bat afflicted with white-nose syndrome.
Flickr user U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
P. fluorescens is frequently used in agricultural contexts as an antifungal agent and has also been used to treat similar fungal infections in amphibians. What's better, P. fluorescens is naturally present on bats already, so using it for treatment posed little risk of introducing additional threats to bat species.
For these reasons, P. fluorescens was an attractive subject for Hoyt and colleagues. To conduct their experiment, they picked a mine in Wisconsin that served as a hibernacula — a fancy term referring to caves in which bats hibernate over winter — for a colony of Myotis lucifugus, or the little brown bat.
Little brown bats were once one of the most common species in the northeastern U.S., but white-nose syndrome is quickly changing that. In fact, the year before in the very same mine that Hoyt and colleagues had chosen, there had been 226 little brown bats. On the year the researchers chose to conduct their experiment, that number had dwindled to just 82.
Prior to the start of winter, the researchers collected 60 bats from the mine with roughly 30 each to serve in the control and treatment groups, respectively. All bats were given a tag that would trigger a transponder near the entrance of the cave, alerting the researchers to a bat's movements in and out of the cave and, in theory, to when the bats immerged from hibernation. In this way, the researchers could determine whether a bat had died during hibernation or whether white-nose syndrome had driven them out of the cave early. If the bats failed to return, they were presumed to have died. To confirm this, the researchers searched through all known sites within 50 kilometers of the focal mine to find any tagged bats who had immigrated to a new hibernaculum, but this proved not to be the case.
Significant progress, significant challenges
"Bats are really difficult to work with," said Hoyt, "so being able to pull out some meaningful results from this work was a huge win for us." And the results were striking. In the control group, only about 8 percent of bats survived the winter. But in the group treated with P. fluorescens, nearly 50 percent of bats survived. "It's definitely exciting news," said Hoyt. "Fifty percent is great. It's not 100% like we would hope, unfortunately, but I am not sure we'll ever get there."
Significant challenges remain before we can solve white-nose syndrome. For one, Hoyt and colleagues applied their treatment slowly, tediously, to just a handful of bats. Bat colonies, however, can reach the thousands; treating huge colonies, who are at the greatest risk for white-nose syndrome, will be difficult. What's more, P. fluorescens only helped save half of the bat population. Assuming this number holds in more large-scale treatments, bats still can't afford to lose half of their colony members each winter. With more work and any luck, however, future researchers will be able to come up with a solution to treating bat colonies en masse and potentially discover the right combination of antifungal treatments to prevent death by white-nose syndrome entirely.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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