Saturday, August 6, 2011

How Bats Detect and Suck Blood

Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob. The science behind fictional vampires has now been dissected, but what about their real-life counterparts, the only known mammal that survives solely on blood?

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas in Caracas, Venezuela have figured out how the very real vampire bat is able to detect the blood of its prey, ScienceDaily reports.

The secret? A "sensitive, heat-detecting molecule," called TRPV1, which covers nerve endings on their noses, explains

Along with an ability to sense its prey's veins through the heat-detecting molecule, the bat can bite through another animal's skin without waking it, due to enamel-free, razor sharp teeth. According to ScienceDaily, once an adult vampire bat has successfully found a vein to feed from, it can drink half of its body weight in blood.

The Guardian compares the blood-detecting sensors on their lips to human cells, writing, "The specialised nerve cells are similar to the pain-sensing cells in the human tongue, skin and eyes, which allow us to sense the sting of chilli peppers and high temperatures."

David Julius, PhD, led the team of scientists, and said that the discovery of TRPV1 in vampire bats helped them put a finger on the origin of the species as well:

"For some time, people thought that bats were more closely related to rodents because of their anatomical features," he said. "In more recent years, with the advent of genomic methods, there have been a number of groups that postulated the fact that bats are more closely related to this other superorder. Bats are not as closely related to rodents and humans as they are to dogs, cows and whales."

The International Business Times writes that the findings might give a closer look into how similar human sensors work, and could help improve prescription drugs. The team's findings were published in Nature on Thursday.

Not all bats are "Twilight"-y and terrifying. Some are even seriously threatened. A deadly disease, white-nose syndrome, has killed over one million bats of other species in the past five years.


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