TBG-Project Michael Hiller

Comparative Genomics

Uncovering the genomic underpinnings of exceptional traits in bats

Myotis myotis © Oliver Farcy

Institution: Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung

Prof. Dr. Michael Hiller


Bats are the only mammals that evolved powered flight and exhibit a number of exceptional traits. For example, bats live longer than most other mammals after correcting for body size, but they rarely get cancer and show few signs of senescence. Infections with viruses that are deadly for humans is often asymptomatic in bats. Thus, bats are important models for healthy aging, enhanced resistance to tumorigenesis and infectious diseases.

As part of the Bat1K project, we aim at generating and analyzing high-quality genome assemblies of bats to reveal the molecular mechanisms underlying their super powers. In past work, reference-quality genome assemblies of six bat species were generated using long-read sequencing and various scaffolding technologies. Comprehensive analyses,

Our genome-wide screens for gene gain, loss and selection revealed expansions of viral-restricting APOBEC3 genes, loss of pro-inflammatory immune genes, and selection of genes involved in regulating NFkB pathway activity.

Nevertheless, many aspects of bats exceptional longevity and unique immunity remain elusive. To unlock these secrets, comprehensive comparative analyses of bat genomes that represent the biodiversity in this lineage are required. Therefore, together with our Bat1K colleagues, we will contribute to sequencing, annotating and analyzing more bat genomes, and to develop computational genomic methods to detect important genomic changes in genes and regulatory elements.

Group expertise / Methods

  • Gene annotation, integrating gene projections by our TOGA (Tool to infer Orthologs from Genome Alignments) method, with de novo and homology-based gene predictions and transcriptomics data
  • Screens for evolutionary changes in genes (gene loss, gain, selection, parallel substitutions) and regulatory elements (REforge, TFforge)


Wang LF, Gamage AM, Chan WOY, Hiller M, Teeling EC. Decoding bat immunity: the need for a coordinated research approach. Nature Reviews Immunology. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41577-021-00523-0, 2021