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Blood-Drinking Adaptations

Vampire bats can survive on their diet of blood because of particular features of their genomes and microbiomes, the Scientist reports.

"We decided to study this species because it has an 'extreme' diet, in the sense that it requires many adaptations in the organism to live on that," first author Lisandra Zepeda, a doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen, tells Reuters.

The Copenhagen-led team sequenced the genome of the common vampire bat, Desmodus rotundus, and examined its gut microbiome. As they report in Nature Ecology & Evolution this week, when the researchers compared the vampire bat's genome to those of other bats, they found an increase in the number of transposons it contained. The researchers traced the transposons to genes involved in immune response and lipid and vitamin metabolism, which could help the bats live off of blood, Reuters notes.

At the same time, the Copenhagen team conducted a metagenomic analysis of the vampire bats' droppings. They report that the vampire bats' gut microbiome is similar in taxonomic composition to that of insectivorous and carnivorous bats, but differs from other bats at the functional level, which suggested to the researchers that the gut microbiome helps the vampire bat adapt to its blood diet.

"The data suggests that there is a close evolutionary relationship between the gut microbiome and the genome of the vampire bat for adaptation to sanguivory," Zepeda tells the BBC