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Curr Opin Virol. 2011 Dec;1(6):649-57. doi: 10.1016/j.coviro.2011.10.013. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Mass extinctions, biodiversity and mitochondrial function: are bats 'special' as reservoirs for emerging viruses?

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CSRIO Livestock Industries, Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Geelong, Victoria 3216, Australia.


For the past 10-15 years, bats have attracted growing attention as reservoirs of emerging zoonotic viruses. This has been due to a combination of factors including the emergence of highly virulent zoonotic pathogens, such as Hendra, Nipah, SARS and Ebola viruses, and the high rate of detection of a large number of previously unknown viral sequences in bat specimens. As bats have ancient evolutionary origins and are the only flying mammals, it has been hypothesized that some of their unique biological features may have made them especially suitable hosts for different viruses. So the question 'Are bats different, special or exceptional?' has become a focal point in the field of virology, bat biology and virus-host co-evolution. In this brief review, we examine the topic in a relatively unconventional way, that is, our discussion will be based on both scientific discoveries and theoretical predictions. This approach was chosen partially because the data in this field are so limited that it is impossible to conduct a useful review based on published results only and also because we believe it is important to provoke original, speculative or even controversial ideas or theories in this important field of research.

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