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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: Treating a Deadly Bat Disease

Maarten Vonhof
Western Michigan University

For nine years, White Nose Syndrome has plagued North American bats. It’s a fungal disease that in some species is up to 98 percent fatal.

But biologist Maarten Vonhof thinks a compound called chitosan might treat it.

"It has this very strong inhibitory effect on the fungus and at the same time it has important wound-healing properties," he says.

Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service
A bat with White Nose Syndrome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Vonhof is an associate professor of biology at Western Michigan University. He´s also affiliated with Western´s Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program. And he´s in the midst of a study on how chitosan affects the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome. Together with other researchers, he collected bats from northern Michigan, infected some of them with WNS, treated some with chitosan and placed them in an incubator last fall.

They'll emerge from simulated hibernation this spring, after which Vonhof and his colleagues will analyze them to see whether and to what extent the chitosan treated the fungus.

"That takes some time, but at some point this summer we should have some answers," he says.

Treatment with chitosan is one of several options that might offer hope for WNS-afflicted bats. Vonhof says other scientists are studying whether probiotics, as well as gases used to treat produce might inhibit the fungus.

WMU Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Maarten Vonhof

He spoke in detail with WMUK's Sehvilla Mann  how White Nose Syndrome changes bats’ behavior, current research on the disease and options for treating it.

WMUK's full interview with Maarten Vonhof

The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a webpage with information on White Nose Syndrome.


Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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