Fruit Bats May Help Blood Sugar Concerns

Fruit bats eat twice their body weight in fruit every day. While we love fruit as a healthy snack, people with blood sugar concerns need to pay attention to portion sizes. Sugar in fruit is balanced with fiber. But if people ate that much fruit, they would be in trouble. Bats, on the other hand, suffer no ill effects.  

Researchers hope that learning how fruit bats have evolved to live off sugar could be the key to helping folk with blood sugar concerns. Dr. Nadav Ahituv, director of the UC San Francisco Institute for Human Genetics and co-senior author of the new study, hopes their research will lead to new blood sugar therapies for humans as “fruit bats have a genetic system that controls blood sugar without fail.”

Unlike bats who eat insects, fruit bats have more efficient pancreases that make extra insulin-producing cells. They also process sugar quickly. And their kidneys evolved to retain electrolytes from their water-heavy, salt-light diet.

Even small changes, to single letters of DNA, make this diet viable for fruit bats,” said Dr. Wei Gordon, co-first author of the paper, a recent graduate of UCSF and assistant professor of biology at Menlo College. “We need to understand high-sugar metabolism like this to make progress helping the one in three Americans [with blood sugar concerns].”

There are close to 200 species of fruit bats. The researchers were only looking at one. Moreover, they were only looking at two organs. Looking at other types of bats and other organs involved in metabolism, including the liver and intestines, could make their research more beneficial and bring them closer to findings relevant to humans. Their research is fascinating right now, but it only helps to explain why those bats remain healthy while eating so much fruit; it doesn’t have a practical application for humans.

Currently, the team is trying to see if altering the DNA sequences of mice to mimic the fruit bats’ would help the mice manage blood sugar better. If it works, and the mice can eat massive amounts of sugar without it impacting their blood sugar, they may be onto something.

This research could be the beginning of a breakthrough that might significantly help people with blood sugar concerns. It’s incredible how nature can provide answers to complex questions. These bats sleep 20 hours a day and gorge on fruit for the four hours they are conscious, yet they stay healthy. Knowing how they do it and replicating it could help humans with blood sugar concerns live with fewer worries.      

Banner image: Laura Meinhardt via Unsplash

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