Directions for teachers: After your students read “Why bat viruses are so dangerous,” ask them to answer the following questions. 

1. The article mentions three well-known human viruses that bats also carry. What are they? 

Bats can carry Ebola virus, Marburg virus and coronaviruses.

2. How do the viruses affect bats and humans differently?

Though the viruses can cause deadly infections in people, bats seem unaffected by the viruses.

3. Why do bats and humans respond differently, according to recent evidence?

Past research has shown that bats’ immune systems tolerate viruses in part because they can limit inflammation. A new study suggests that, in response to bats’ immune defenses, viruses seem to ramp up their ability to quickly spread between cells. When a virus jumps from a bat to a person, whose immune system may not have batlike defenses, the virus could cause serious infection.

4. How did ecologist Cara Brook test for viruses’ effects on bats and monkeys in the lab? What was the result of her experiment?

Cara Brook and her colleagues infected monkey cells and bat cells in lab dishes with viruses engineered to look like Ebola and Marburg — two viruses commonly found in bats. In the experiment, bat cells survived better than monkey cells.

5. How did monkey and bat cells fare in a mathematical simulation of the experiment? How did the mathematical simulation complement the lab work?

The viruses spread more quickly in bat cells than in monkey cells. However, monkey cells were killed more quickly than bat cells. The mathematical simulation allowed researchers to explore how fast the viruses spread from cell to cell and whether antiviral defenses played a role in how fast the viruses spread.

6. Why does the author refer to the relationship between immune systems and viruses as “a sort of arms race”? What type of literary device is this, and why do you think the author uses it?

The term “arms race” typically refers to a competition for superiority between various parties in developing and acquiring weapons. The relationship between immune systems and viruses is like an arms race because the two are constantly trying to conquer each other. This is an example of a metaphor and the author probably uses it to help the reader understand the relationship between viruses and the immune system.  

7. How many bat species are there in the world, according to disease ecologist Kevin Olival? How does this figure relate to Brook’s study?

Olival says there are more than 1,400 bat species in the world. He notes that Brook’s study focused on only two species — other bat species might have different responses to viruses.

8. According to Olival, or based on your own thoughts, what are some areas for further research?

In addition to researching other bat species, Olival thinks research on other types of nonhuman animals that carry and cope with deadly viruses would be beneficial.