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Just The Blood, Thanks

The Scientist covers a recent preprint study by Max Planck Institute and LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics researcher Michael Hiller and co-authors that outlined 13 genes lost as vampire bats adapted to a blood-only diet — gene losses found by analyzing a new common vampire bat reference genome alongside sequences from more than two dozen other bat species, including representatives from the same bat family.

"Comparing the newly assembled, reference-quality genome of the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) — one of the three extant vampire bat species — to 25 genomes from other kinds of bats revealed 13 genes that were missing exclusively in this species," Alejandra Manjarrez writes. "These losses may have contributed to the vampire bats' preference and ability to dine on blood and to other traits, such as their remarkable cognitive aptitudes."

The lost gene set included three genes coding for sweet and bitter taste receptors, along with 10 genes that had not been implicated in dietary adaptations in the vampire bat in the past, Manjarrez explains, from insulin secretion-related genes to genes related to protein digestion or iron excretion.

"Early studies on gene losses involved a lot of manual [sequence] curation," she notes. "In recent years, Hiller and his team have been working on accurately detecting gene losses on a larger scale in mammalian species, revealing the role of this genomic change in various phenotypic adaptations."