So far, more than 5 million bats have died from White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is wiping out bat populations and spreading rapidly. For some reason, one species, the Virginia big-eared bat, remained unaffected by the disease. In October of 2016, a project investigating why these bats are resistant to WNS won the Wildlife Disease Challenge Grant, with support from 110 backers.
In May, Hazel Barton's lab shared a report with new clues to this mystery. This species of bats are usually found covered in yellow, waxy substance that makes bats feel greasy when handled. The team hypothesized that a yeast species Debaryomyces udenii may be producing the yellow gunk and preventing the filamentous fungi that causes WNS from growing.
The team took 54 swab samples from the fur of various WNS-positive bat species, including Virginia big-eared bats. Surprisingly, the results indicate that the yeast D. udenii is not producing the yellow gunk. Instead, the data suggest that the yellow gunk found on the Virginia big-eared bats may be anti-fungal. More research is needed!