Across eastern North America, White-nose syndrome has become a significant cause of mortality for many bat species. In addition to their role as key members of delicate, nutrient-poor cave ecosystems, bats provide up to $53 billion in yearly protection of cropland by via consumption of insect pests.
Efforts to manage the causative agent of white-nose syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, have focused on the development of chemical fungicides or biocontrol, but with little success to date.
Joshua Blodgett, assistant professor of biology, aims to use native cave bacteria for the biocontrol of P. destructans in hibernacula harboring infected or infection-prone bats. With funding from Washington University’s International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability, Dr. Blodgett began investigating Tyson caves for the presence of candidate antifungal actinomycete bacteria during summer 2015. To date, his lab has isolated 586 cave actinomycetes, and preliminary data indicate ~15% of tested isolates produce antifungal compounds in the lab, with many significantly inhibitory to P. destructans.
The Blodgett lab continues to assay additional isolates for P. destructans inhibition, and the strongest antifungal producers are undergoing chemical analyses to identify the inhibitory metabolites produced by these bacteria. Next steps include microcosm experiments where antifungal cave bacteria will be co-cultured with P. destructans in under mock-cave conditions to assess which strains have the highest potential to control P. destructans in the environment. Strains capable of environmental P. destructans inhibition are important and urgently- needed White-nose biocontrol leads.