FSU researchers net $200K NSF grant to study bat linked to COVID-19

Release Date: 
Tuesday, June 16, 2020


A team of Florida State University researchers has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create a global data set on the horseshoe bat, a possible source of the novel coronavirus plaguing nations worldwide. 

Professor of Biological Science Austin Mast and College of Communication and Information digitization specialist Deborah Paul, along with collaborators from across North America, will develop the data set from about 100,000 horseshoe bat specimens housed at more than 100 natural history museums. To better understand the origins of this viral pathogen, and how it spreads across species, researchers need more data about these bats. 

The data set will link to information about tissue samples, DNA sequences, disease load data and more. 

“Each specimen is an irreplaceable time capsule of information,” Mast said. 

Mast and Paul also will collaborate with researchers from Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, who will enable rapid geocoding of the specimens. Staff and researchers from the American Museum of Natural History, Arizona State University and the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History will also assist with data refinement. 

“With our National Science Foundation funding and our collaborators, we will apply our combined expertise to rapidly enhance these data records in several different ways; for example, by providing geocoordinates and standardizing location and collector information,” Paul said. “Once published, these additional data will allow scientists to visualize and potentially expand the known ranges for these bats through space and time.”

These range maps will pinpoint the locations of the bats. These can then be used for modeling the likelihood that viruses might spill over from bats into neighboring human communities.