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Could ultraviolet light save Wisconsin bats from deadly fungus?

Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on

Published in Science & Technology News

MILWAUKEE--Could ultraviolet light be the magic bullet that saves bats from a deadly fungus?

A researcher from a federal laboratory in Madison is experimenting with the use of UV light to control a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of cave-dwelling bats in the United States.

Wisconsin is one of the states affected by the devastation, and a state Department of Natural Resources official said the trend of infections here is rising sharply.

Bats are important for ecological and economic reasons. Their voracious appetite reduces the use of pesticides. A single little brown bat can consume 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Some species are also important pollinators.

Daniel Lindner, a research plant pathologist with the U.S. Forest Service, is receiving $155,947 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to study whether UV light can effectively kill the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes white-nose syndrome.

The foundation announced the award on Tuesday.

In the future, the research could lead to refinements in the technology, such as placing rings of invisible UV light where bats hibernate to zap the fungus.

There is currently no cure for white-nose syndrome. For bats, it is usually fatal, but it poses no threats to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife. The fungus originated in Europe and likely spread to the U.S. and Canada through human migration and agriculture.

Since its discovery in New York state in 2006, the disease has killed more than 6 million bats in 31 states, including Wisconsin, and five Canadian provinces.

White-nose syndrome was first detected in Wisconsin in Grant County in 2014. It has since been found in 23 more counties.

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