Thanks to popular fiction, vampire bats are more associated with Dracula than any conceivable health benefits, let alone high blood pressure.

Nevertheless a recent study titled Dracula’s children: Molecular evolution of vampire bat venom shows exactly that.

The study, conducted by researchers from several universities, reveals a much more complex secretion profile in vampire bats venom than previously recognized. The venom contains several complex molecules designed to keep their victims’ blood flowing freely post-bite and researchers say that these anticoagulation properties could lead to new treatments for stroke and high blood pressure.

One of the researchers, Bryan Fry, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Queensland, commented that the findings “point to entirely new forms of anticoagulants in the venom, as well as novel molecules that cause dilation of the small arteries near the skin.”

He explained that in the same way that snake venom “has developed rapidly to stay ahead of evolving resistance in prey, vampire bats are rapidly evolving their venom to prevent the immune system of the prey from generating antibodies against the venom molecules. This means that even if an antibody is generated against one molecule, there are a number of other ones that will sneak past the prey’s defense system and keep the blood flowing. This means the same victim can be fed on night after night.”

The study suggests that these results have direct implications in understanding the molecular evolutionary history of vampire bat venom. Also, the unusual peptides discovered reinforce the value of studying such neglected taxon for biodiscovery ― the collection of biological material and the analysis of its material properties, or its molecular, biochemical or genetic content, for the purpose of developing a commercial product.

Many scientists have researched vampire bat saliva. A 2003 study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, found that a genetically engineered drug called desmoteplase, which uses the anticoagulant properties of the saliva of the common vampire bat, increased blood flow in stroke patients.

Perhaps one day bats will make the list of health-promoting pets after cats and dogs.

 

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