World Health Day: the Natural History Museum completes the digitization of its collection of bats which can help fight future pandemics

  • The Natural History Museum announces today, World Health Day, that it has completed the digitization of more than 8,000 bat specimens from three bat families
  • Data created through scanning can be used to learn more about the evolution of viruses and immunology in bats, and help mitigate the risk of future pandemics
  • Museum collections provide a unique record of where bat populations have existed in space and time

The most common results suggest that adult butterfly body size increases with temperature during fin. This data will be freely available online, providing a resource that researchers studying viruses can use to identify specimens of interest. This research has the potential to tell us more about the evolution of viruses and immunology in bats to better understand human health, and even help mitigate the risk of future pandemics.

The genomic sequences of the COVID-19 virus found in humans at the start of the pandemic in 2020 were 95% identical to those of a bat coronavirus found in a common species of Asian horseshoe bat of the Southeast called the Intermediate Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus affinis) (Li et al. 2021). A project to collect data on three families of bats in nine European institutions – including the Natural History Museum – was launched by the COVID-19 working group of the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF) and funded by SYNTHESYS + Virtual Access. Data from more than 20,000 bats will be published by the nine institutions, providing a new resource for scientific research and a comprehensive view of the species distribution, ecology and behavior of bats around the world. over time.

The Museum has now completed data collection of over 8,000 specimens for this project, from three families of bats: the horseshoe bats (family Rhinolophidae) and their close relatives the leaf-nosed bats. from the Old World (family Hipposideridae) and trident bats (family Rhinonycteridae).

Mitigating the risk of future pandemics

A better understanding of species distribution and ecosystem changes from sample data can help researchers link events such as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to specific environmental conditions. This could help predict when a future viral spillover might occur. Additionally, this data can be used to identify bat specimens that may contain viral DNA for further investigation, improving our understanding of species that may carry viruses so that we can anticipate and prevent disease. emergence of future health crises.

Professor Jonathan Ball, from the Wolfson Center for Emerging Virus Infections at the University of Nottingham, says: ‘These data are helping us to identify samples for further investigation. Thanks to this, we were able to develop a new protocol to obtain the best viral genome samples from specimens, some of which are over 100 years old. Next-generation sequencing can be applied to these samples to provide unique insights into the range of viruses present in bat populations over the past hundred years. It is hoped that this will shed some light on the evolution of viruses like Ebola and coronaviruses. This will become invaluable research that can be used to understand their emergence and help identify future pandemic threats.

A better understanding of human health

Bats have several unique characteristics that scientists are studying to better understand bats and potentially human health. For example, having the ability to fly requires bats to have a very high metabolic rate and yet they can live up to 40 years, whereas other animals with a high metabolic rate often live short lives due to cell damage it can cause. The enhanced cellular mechanisms bats have for repairing damaged cells mean they have very strong immune systems, which is of particular interest to scientists.

Professor Emma Teeling, a zoologist and geneticist at University College Dublin, Ireland, says “bats have incredible immune systems, very low cancer rates and have developed new ways of slowing aging and fight against viruses, so there is huge potential for learning how we can improve human health by studying the genome of bats and their immune systems Digitization projects like this give us a huge amount of data on to work on, offering enormous opportunities for future research.

Open access data

All data generated by the digitization project will be available free of charge on the museum’s data portal. As part of these digital records, the Museum has generated an enhanced digitization photograph of 170 type specimens from the bat collection. Museum digitizer Phaedra Kokkini says, “We took photos of their skulls and skins as well as close-up photos of the nasal leaf of the bodies preserved in the spirit. These photos will be useful as a global reference for species identification in future studies.

Data from the Museum’s Bat Digitization Project, including photographs of type specimens, are uploaded to the Museum’s website. Data portal. Find out how natural history museums can help fight future pandemics here.

Notes to Editors

Contact for natural history media: Tel. : +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / 07799690151 Email: [email protected]

Images available for download here.

About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-renowned scientific research center and the most visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which people and the planet thrive, he is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing the needs of humanity with those of the natural world.

It is the custodian of one of the most important scientific collections in the world comprising more than 80 million specimens. The breadth of this collection allows researchers around the world to document how species have responded and continue to respond to environmental change – which is essential to help predict what might happen in the future and inform policy and future plans to help the planet.

The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research on all aspects of the natural world. Their science provides essential data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the main threats of climate change and biodiversity loss to the search for solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to fulfill its mission to create Earth Defenders – to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome more than five million visitors each year; our digital production reaches hundreds of thousands of people in more than 200 countries every month and our traveling exhibitions have been seen by approximately 30 million people over the past 10 years.