Bats are mysterious creatures: They're the only flying mammals, and are much more resistant to the viruses that affect us and other species. Another mystery is their exceptionally long lifespans, which could be more than than similar-sized mammals. What’s more, bats show very few signs of aging, making it difficult for people to accurately estimate their chronological age.
DNA methylation is a biological process where genetic material accumulates small molecules that affect cells express genes. Assessment of theses "epigenetic" changes has been used as a tool to in humans, determine ages in animals, and .
Scientists were able to estimate the age of bats by analyzing their DNA methylation levels. The DNA extracted from their wing tissue provides an accurate indicator of a bat’s age as well as a predictor of their longevity. The study discovered that the longer maximum lifespan of bats is more closely associated with the lower rates of change in DNA methylation with age, rather than body size.
Subsequent analysis of bat genomes helped researchers to identify regions of genes that may be linked to bats age and longevity. The genes with the highest levels of methylation are found to be mostly involved in innate immunity and cancer suppression, including several proteins that regulate the immune response in bats. The results suggest an explanation for why bats , such as Ebola, rabies, and SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and they could someday be used for human benefit.