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Fruit Bats Provide Clues To The Future Of Diabetes Treatments

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A diet high in sugar is certainly detrimental to humans. It contributes to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. Surprisingly, however, fruit bats not only survive but thrive by consuming up to twice their body weight in sugary fruits daily. 

Scientists at UC San Francisco have unraveled the mystery of how fruit bats evolved to handle such high sugar intake. What they learned offers potential insights for the 37 million Americans dealing with diabetes. The study, published in Nature Communications, reveals adaptations in the fruit bat’s body that prevent harm from their sugar-rich diet.

Diabetes is the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States. For those who suffer from it, diabetes poses significant health and economic burdens. Fruit bats, unlike humans with diabetes, possess a genetic system that effectively regulates blood sugar. Researchers led by Nadav Ahituv, Ph.D., director of the UCSF Institute for Human Genetics, focused on the evolution of the bat pancreas and kidneys. They found that the fruit bat pancreas had extra insulin-producing cells and genetic changes, allowing it to process large sugar quantities. Fruit bat kidneys adapted to retain vital electrolytes from their watery meals.

Even small genetic changes enable fruit bats to survive and thrive on a high-sugar diet, providing valuable insights into high-sugar metabolism. Understanding these mechanisms could lead to improved therapies for the growing number of prediabetic individuals. Fruit bats, after 20 hours of sleep, spend four hours gorging on fruit, showcasing their remarkable ability to consume sugar without consequences.

Collaborating with scientists globally, the researchers analyzed gene expression and regulatory DNA in individual cells using advanced single-cell technology. The fruit bat’s pancreas and kidneys evolved to accommodate their diet, with regulatory DNA playing a crucial role. In contrast, the big brown bat, which consumes insects, exhibited different genetic adaptations for protein breakdown and water conservation.

The study emphasizes the significance of regulatory DNA in managing diets and highlights the fruit bat’s unique genetic makeup that allows it to enjoy a sweet tooth without negative effects. This research, inspired by the diverse adaptations of bats, showcases their role as evolutionary superheroes with extraordinary abilities.

What do you think of this new development in diabetes research? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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