We recently reported on the growing issue of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans. WNS has been shown to affect the hibernation cycles of many bat species including the little bronw bat (Figure 1) and in many cases, leads to impairment or death. Currently, no full blown cure has been reported; though today we would like to introduce you to some of the control methods that have shown some promise in the fight against this devastating disease. In his blog on Nature.org, Matt Miller reported on a group from Georgia State University lead by Sydney Crow, Jr and their efforts to control WNS using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by the bacterium Rhodococcus rhodochrous which they have demonstrated can be used to control the growth of the causal agent of WNS (Cornelison et al. 2013). Using these VOCs on bats placed in a treatment chamber, they were able to arrest the growth to such an extent that as many as 75 of these bats were able to be released back into the wild.
Why can’t we just spray caves with fungicides and kill all the WNS causing fungi; then the bats will all be safe, right? Well, that is an enticing idea! However, many fungicides are broad-spectrum and non-discriminating as to which fungi they really destroy, so there is a major threat to destroying natural biodiversity and the cave ecosystem if we were to use this method. Other natural control methods that have shown promise include the use of cold-pressed, terpeneless Valencia orange oil in the control of P. gymnoascus in vitro while causing no damage to other common fungi or bacteria (Boire et al. 2016). Though the researchers cautiously suggest that, in both of these studies, more research is necessary to determine the effect that employing any of these control measures will have on local flora and fauna before any large-scale control efforts can take place, both studies present promising evidence that we may find a way to stop this pathogen before it wipes out our bats entirely.
Boire N, Zhang S, Khuvis J, Lee R, Rivers J, Crandall P, Keel MK, Parrish N (2016) Potent Inhibition of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the Causative Agent of White-Nose Syndrome in Bats, by Cold-Pressed, Terpeneless, Valencia Orange Oil. PLoS One 11: 1–10
Cornelison, Christopher T., Kyle T. Gabriel, Courtney K. Barlament, and Sidney A. Crow Jr. 2013. Inhibition of Pseudogymnoascus destructans growth from conidia and mycelial extension by bacterially produced volatile organic compounds. Mycopathologia. 177(1-2):1-10.10.25.16