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Biological Chemistry

White bat hoards carotenoids in its yellow nose and ears

Studying the curious creature might reveal ways to use these yellow pigments to prevent macular degeneration, a form of blindness.

by Sarah Everts
September 19, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 37

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Credit: Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA
The Honduran white bat has an enviable ability to store a yellow pigment called lutein in its ears and nose.
Credit: Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA
The Honduran white bat has an enviable ability to store a yellow pigment called lutein in its ears and nose.

A tropical white bat with yellow ears and a leaflike, sprawling yellow nose doesn’t just look bizarre. It also has a peculiar—and enviable—ability to hoard the pigment that colors its yellow appendages. This pigment, lutein, is a member of the carotenoid family. It’s also a chemical useful for protecting cells from oxygen damage, particularly in the eye. But mammals—with the exception of this bat—are poor accumulators of carotenoids, including lutein. Instead these pigments are distributed evenly in mammalian bodies, preventing accumulation in regions at risk for oxygen injury. Researchers led by Ismael Galván at Doñana Biological Station, who identified lutein as the bat’s decorative pigment, also propose that studying the bat’s carotenoid-hoarding capability could lead to new strategies for avoiding macular degeneration, a kind of blindness that can be delayed by the presence of lutein (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2016, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1609724113). “The Honduran white bat … may be the sought-after mammalian model needed for enhancing studies on carotenoid function and metabolism,” they note.

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