Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Experimental infection of bats with Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome


White-nose syndrome (WNS) has caused recent catastrophic declines among multiple species of bats in eastern North America1,2. The disease’s name derives from a visually apparent white growth of the newly discovered fungus Geomyces destructans on the skin (including the muzzle) of hibernating bats1,3. Colonization of skin by this fungus is associated with characteristic cutaneous lesions that are the only consistent pathological finding related to WNS4. However, the role of G. destructans in WNS remains controversial because evidence to implicate the fungus as the primary cause of this disease is lacking. The debate is fuelled, in part, by the assumption that fungal infections in mammals are most commonly associated with immune system dysfunction5,6,7. Additionally, the recent discovery that G. destructans commonly colonizes the skin of bats of Europe, where no unusual bat mortality events have been reported8,9,10, has generated further speculation that the fungus is an opportunistic pathogen and that other unidentified factors are the primary cause of WNS11,12. Here we demonstrate that exposure of healthy little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) to pure cultures of G. destructans causes WNS. Live G. destructans was subsequently cultured from diseased bats, successfully fulfilling established criteria for the determination of G. destructans as a primary pathogen13. We also confirmed that WNS can be transmitted from infected bats to healthy bats through direct contact. Our results provide the first direct evidence that G. destructans is the causal agent of WNS and that the recent emergence of WNS in North America may represent translocation of the fungus to a region with a naive population of animals8. Demonstration of causality is an instrumental step in elucidating the pathogenesis14 and epidemiology15 of WNS and in guiding management actions to preserve bat populations against the novel threat posed by this devastating infectious disease.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Histological sections of representative wing membranes (periodic acid-Schiff stain).
Figure 2: Survival curves.


  1. Blehert, D. S. et al. Bat white-nose syndrome: an emerging fungal pathogen? Science 323, 227 (2009)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Turner, G. G., Reeder, D. M. & Coleman, J. T. H. A five-year assessment of mortality and geographic spread of white-nose syndrome in North American bats and a look to the future. Bat Res. News 52, 13–27 (2011)

    Google Scholar 

  3. Gargas, A., Trest, M. T., Christensen, M., Volk, T. J. & Blehert, D. S. Geomyces destructans sp. nov. associated with bat white-nose syndrome. Mycotaxon 108, 147–154 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Meteyer, C. U. et al. Histopathologic criteria to confirm white-nose syndrome in bats. J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 21, 411–414 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Casadevall, A. Fungal virulence, vertebrate endothermy, and dinosaur extinction: is there a connection? Fungal Genet. Biol. 42, 98–106 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Blanco, J. L. & Garcia, M. E. Immune response to fungal infections. Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 125, 47–70 (2008)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Maschmeyer, G., Calandra, T., Singh, N., Wiley, J. & Perfect, J. Invasive mould infections: a multi-disciplinary update. Med. Mycol. 47, 571–583 (2009)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wibbelt, G. et al. White-nose syndrome fungus (Geomyces destructans) in bats, Europe. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 16, 1237–1242 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Martínková, N. et al. Increasing incidence of Geomyces destructans fungus in bats from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. PLoS ONE 5, e13853 (2010)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Puechmaille, S. J. et al. Pan-European distribution of white-nose syndrome fungus (Geomyces destructans) not associated with mass mortality. PLoS ONE 6, e19167 (2011)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Turner, G. G. & Reeder, D. M. Update of white-nose syndrome in bats, September 2009. Bat Res. News 50, 47–53 (2009)

    Google Scholar 

  12. Puechmaille, S. J. et al. White-nose syndrome fungus (Geomyces destructans) in bat, France. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 16, 290–293 (2010)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Koch, R. Die aetiologie der tuberkulose. Mitt. Kaiser. Gesundh. 2, 1–88 (1884)

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cryan, P. M., Meteyer, C. U., Boyles, J. G. & Blehert, D. S. Wing pathology of white-nose syndrome in bats suggests life-threatening disruption of physiology. BMC Biol. 8, 135 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Foley, J., Clifford, D., Castle, K., Cryan, P. M. & Ostfeld, R. S. Investigating and managing the rapid emergence of white-nose syndrome, a novel, fatal, infectious disease of hibernating bats. Conserv. Biol. 25, 223–231 (2011)

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Thomas, D. W., Fenton, M. B. & Barclay, M. R. Social behavior of the little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 6, 129–136 (1979)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fenton, M. B. Summer activity of Myotis lucifugus (Chiroptera:Vespertilionidae) at hibernacula in Ontario and Quebec. Can. J. Zool. 47, 597–602 (1969)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Rajkumar, S. S. et al. Clonal genotype of Geomyces destructans among bats with white-nose syndrome, New York, USA. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 17, 1273–1276 (2011)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Desprez-Loustau, M. L. et al. The fungal dimension of biological invasions. Trends Ecol. Evol. 22, 472–480 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Frick, W. F. et al. An emerging disease causes regional population collapse of a common North American bat species. Science 329, 679–682 (2010)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Skerratt, L. F. et al. Spread of chytridiomycosis has caused the rapid global decline and extinction of frogs. EcoHealth 4, 125–134 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Lorch, J. M. et al. Rapid polymerase chain reaction diagnosis of white-nose syndrome in bats. J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 22, 224–230 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. White, T. J., Bruns, T., Lee, S. & Taylor, J. Amplification and direct sequencing of fungal ribosomal RNA genes for phylogenetics. In PCR Protocols: A Guide to Methods and Applications 315–322 (Academic Press, 1990)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Financial support for this project was provided by the US Geological Survey, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bat Conservation International, and the Indiana State University Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation. Use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government. We acknowledge E. Buckles, S. Darling and T. Tomasi for discussions during the development of this project. We thank N. Keller for comments during the preparation of this manuscript. We also thank J. P. White, R. Dusek, A. Klein, L. Leppert, K. Schuler, C. L. White and NWHC Animal Care Staff for their help with set-up and maintenance of animals, and D. Berndt, L. Muller, A. Pike and M. Verant for their assistance during necropsies. We thank X. Yu for help with statistical analyses.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.S.B., A.C.H., P.M.C. and D.M.R. designed the study. A.C.H., J.T.H.C. and D.N.R. collected wild animals for the study. J.M.L., D.S.B., C.U.M., M.J.B., J.G.B., A.C.H., A.E.B., J.T.H.C., D.N.R. and D.M.R. performed the experiment and/or assisted to collect samples upon completion. C.U.M. and M.J.B. read and interpreted histopathology. J.M.L. and J.G.B. analysed the experimental data. A.E.B. compiled data on wild bats submitted to the NWHC for diagnostic testing. J.M.L. wrote the manuscript and all co-authors provided input. D.S.B. supervised data analyses and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David S. Blehert.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures

The file contains Supplementary Figure1 with a legend. (PDF 592 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lorch, J., Meteyer, C., Behr, M. et al. Experimental infection of bats with Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome. Nature 480, 376–378 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing