Since the advent of genome mapping, the use of computers for data crunching and analysis has been extremely important in many different aspects of biology. Better understanding of viruses is just one way computers can help us process data quickly and efficiently.
Recently, the bat's genome has been sequenced. One reason why this is interesting and relevant to our studies of viruses is that bats are often the reservoirs for diseases that can infect humans. How are bats able to remain unaffected by these viruses that they carry and transmit? Using a supercomputer, researchers at Bristol University were able to map around 6000 important bat genes and determine how these genes are regulated in the presence of Hendra viral infections.
While bats can carry and transmit Hendra virus, they are not themselves affected by this infection. In humans, while infection is rare, the virus has a high mortality rate. By comparing how human cells and bat cells respond to the virus side by side, the researchers were able to pinpoint differences in response to infection by the cells. While the bat cells have a quick response time, human cells are not as efficient at fighting off the infection, which could be the reason that the virus is so much more problematic in humans.
Hopefully, in comparing differences in the genomes of bats and humans, the researchers will be able to pinpoint exactly what genes and proteins provide this ability to respond to the virus in a quick, efficient matter. Perhaps this research can then further be applied to other diseases which bats harbor and transmit to humans, but are not affected by themselves.