“Bats: ally or foe?”, a fascinating investigation into the health secrets of winged mammals.

Aggressive, blood-sucking, signs of a bad omen, or even carriers of disease… Bats have a bad reputation that is difficult for them to get rid of. And the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help matters. Suspected of having played a role in the emergence of the responsible coronavirus, they have been singled out again.

However, these winged mammals are remarkable creatures. Animals that maintain complex social relationships with their fellows and hide a biology full of surprises. If they do contain a hundred viruses, then bats have the peculiarity of never getting sick, or very rarely.

What is their secret? That’s the question the documentary tries to answer.”Bats: friend or foe?which was previewed on October 30 during the Pariscience festival and will be broadcast on November 6 on ARTE. Written and directed by Rafael Hitier, this research is an exciting dive into scientists who are interested in iron for the health of these mammals and its contents. source .

© Films Five

The idea was born long before the pandemic

The project was born long before the pandemic. “Producer Sally Blake told me about making a film about the immune system of bats.“says Rafael Hitier. An idea that brought back some of his childhood memories.”When I was a child, I lived next to a park where there were caves. We went to explore them with my brothers, and it so happened that we came across bats.”

“I’m afraid I foolishly picked up one of them. I grabbed it, held it in my hand, which obviously shouldn’t be done“, – he continues, admitting that since then he has retained a certain passion “creatureThis documentary project provided him with the perfect opportunity to explore the unexpected world of bats and their inner workings.

The investigation logically took on a special resonance in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Initially, there was no phrase. Then everything accelerated with the pandemic“, – he says. – In the course of research, the scenario became clearer, bringing together various scientific groups from Singapore to Ireland via Thailand, the USA and France.”

Rafael Hitye’s cameras moved towards each of them. Or almost. Due to consecutive incarcerations and health restrictions, the director had to film most of the film from his living room with the help of local film crews. “It was very frustrating. But we are lucky to work with very competent teams“, he admits.

Ultra-efficient immune system

Competent technical teams and scientists are clearly passionate about their subject. The documentary, in particular, introduces us to Professor Linfa Wang, a specialist at the Duke-NUS School of Medicine in the United States, whose nickname “Batman” says a lot about his interest in winged mammals.

A study he and his colleagues are conducting has shown that bats have super-efficient immune systems, capable of destroying invading organisms and already infected cells. How and why? This is what researchers are now trying to determine by looking at their lifestyle, their flight, or even their aging.

© Films Five

Because immune resistance is not the only amazing aspect of bat physiology. Some species, such as the Brazilian Mastiff, are true flying machines, reaching a top speed of 160 km/h. While others, such as the great big-eared bat, have record-breaking lifespans due to their small size – the oldest observed so far was 32 years old.

I had an interest in bats, but all these discoveries about their internal workings only increased my curiosity. I find her more attractive than ever. I had no idea there were so many different types of bats“, – comments the director. Currently, there are about 1400 species in the world.

A new take on an unloved mammal

The documentary also offers a wonderful overview of this diversity and the impressive colonies of several thousand individuals that make up certain species. For example, in Bracken Cave, located in Texas, which is home to the largest colony of bats in the world.

What gives a new look to this unloved mammal is wrong. Because, eating insects, it plays an important ecological role in ecosystems. Its physiological secrets can also help in research into our own diseases or mechanisms related to our aging.

Documentary “Bats: ally or foe?” written and directed by Rafael Hitier and produced by Films à cinq will be broadcast on Arte on 6 November at 22:20. he also available in replay on the Arte platform from 30 October.

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