We just found out how vampire bats drink blood without dying

For most mammals, blood’s not typically the only item on their menu. It doesn’t have much in the way of nutrients and it can harbour all sorts of nasty blood-borne diseases.

But a bacterial army and “jumping genes” help vampire bats get everything they need from blood meals, new research shows.

vampire bats key points Key points: Common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) genome and gut microbiome were mapped to study the evolution of its diet Genes and microbes were found that help the bats digest blood, synthesise vitamins and stave off infections Studying the immune system of bats could help treat viral infections in humans

In work published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers found blood-eating bats have distinct genetic and gut microbe differences from their vegetarian and meat-eating counterparts that help them live on their grisly meals.

The creatures’ extreme diet means they need loads of adaptations to survive, said Lisandra Zepeda Mendoza, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the study.

“Sanguivory [blood-eating] is a very, very rare diet in the animal kingdom, especially if it’s ‘obligate sanguivory’, meaning that they can only eat [blood],” she said.

Get the blood flowing

Only three species of mammal feed solely on blood, and they’re all vampire bats.

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