White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) has infected and killed millions of hibernating bats in North America over the last several years. WNS has spread rapidly through bat migration pathways, and can persist in cave environments as asexual spores. Without a way to prevent WNS spread or reduce its virulence, long-term, widespread consequences are expected. Bats provide an essential ecological and agricultural crop protection service by consuming thousands of metric tons of insects each year. The high mortality rate, quick natural dispersal, environmental persistence, and devastating ecological and economic consequences of WNS necessitate a means of combating the fungus directly without adversely affecting bats and cave environments.
Mycoviruses (viruses infecting fungi) have been shown to reduce fungal virulence in epidemics of fungal plant disease, but have not yet been examined for utility in WNS management. Mycoviruses are highly specific biocontrol agents because their transmission is constrained to fusions between very genetically similar fungal strains. The Pd strains infecting North American bats have low genetic diversity and may be a clonal population. They are therefore prime targets for mycovirus biocontrol. The goal of this research is to assess the prevalence and genomic diversity of Pseudogymnoascus mycoviruses and their potential use as a control agent for White-nose Syndrome.
Funded by a grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service