People around the world eat too much sugar. When the body is unable to process sugar effectively, leading to excess glucose in the blood, this can result in diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes became the ninth leading cause of death in 2019.
Humans are not the only mammals that love sugar. Fruit bats do, too, eating up to twice their body weight in sugary fruit a day. However, unlike humans, fruit bats thrive on a sugar-rich diet. They can lower their blood sugar faster than bats that rely on insects as their main food source.
We are a team of biologists and bioengineers. Determining how fruit bats evolved to specialize on a high-sugar diet sent us on a quest to approach diabetes therapy from an unusual angle – one that sent us all the way to Lamanai, Belize, for the Belize Bat-a-thon, an annual gathering where researchers collect and study bats.
In our newly published research in Nature Communications, we and colleagues Seungbyn Baek and Martin Hemberg used a technology that analyzes the DNA of individual cells to compare the unique metabolic instructions encoded in the genome of the Jamaican fruit bat, Artibeus jamaicensis, with those in the genome of the insect-eating big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus.