Bats play an important ecological role and facilitate pollination and insect control, but recently, bats have also been identified as reservoirs of multiple emerging high impact viruses. These include viruses such as coronaviruses (CoVs), Marburg and Ebola filoviruses, and Hendra and Nipah paramyxoviruses that are causative agents of important human and agricultural infections, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), porcine epidemic diarrhoea (PED) and more recently, coronavirus disease – 19 (COVID-19). COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, which was recently identified to be 96% similar to a bat coronavirus.

Researchers at McMaster in collaboration with the National University of Singapore sought to identify if bats have evolved unique adaptations in their antiviral immune response to combat infections with viruses.The study, first-authored by Dr. Arinjay Banerjee from the Mossman lab, discovered that bats have evolved an additional serine residue in a key antiviral transcription factor, interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) that enhanced antiviral responses in bat cells. Furthermore, adding this serine residue in human IRF3 enhanced human antiviral signaling. This work was recently accepted in the journal iScience.