Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne

ERC Synergy Grant for Björn Schumacher: bats as a guide to extend healthspan


The ERC BATPROJECT "Learning from Bats: New strategies to extend healthspan and improve diseases resistancce". European Research Council (ERC) is funding the project ‘BATPROTECT’ with 11.9 million euros over a period of six years

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Michael Hiller, Emma Teeling, Linfa Wang, Björn Schumacher v.l.n.r. (Foto: Björn Schumacher)

Professor Dr Björn Schumacher, together with researchers from Frankfurt, Dublin (Ireland) and Singapore, receives the prestigious ERC Synergy Grant by the European Research Council (ERC; overview of ERC funden projects 2023 - here). 

The funded project ‘BATPROTECT’ investigates the ability of bats to show no symptoms of viral infections, to resist diseases and to live exceptionally long and healthy lives thanks to their unique adaptation of the immune system. Understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms could create new ways and opportunities for healthy ageing for humans as well. ‘BATPROTECT’ will receive a total of 11.9 million euros in funding over a period of six years. Schumacher is the Director of the Institute for Genome Stability in Ageing and Disease at the Cologne Cluster of Excellence ‘Cellular Stress Responses in Ageing-Associated Diseases’ (CECAD).

Although mammals the size of bats usually live only a few years, some bat species achieve an exceptionally long life span of up to 40 years. Based on the size of the body, this corresponds to a human living up to 250 years.  The bats show minimal ageing-associated health problems. They also resist pathogens, which are highly dangerous to humans. Although they serve as hosts for numerous dangerous viruses such as COVID-19, Ebolavirus, Marburg virus, SARS and rabies and transmit these to other animals and humans, bats themselves usually show no symptoms of disease.

Do they have a secret recipe for health and longevity? Is it possible to derive insights from bats that are also useful for understanding the ageing process of humans? This is the aim of the Cluster of Excellence CECAD of the University of Cologne, which is home to Professor Björn Schumacher's Institute for Genome Stability and principal investigator at the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC) at the Unversity of Cologne. “Bats have had more than 85 million years in their evolutionary history to solve two challenges that humans have only faced in the past hundred years: a long lifespan and a high population density,” says Schumacher. “With a long life span, people are affected by ageing-associated diseases, and our dense urbanity and global mobility make us vulnerable to infectious diseases, as we have experienced in the case of COVID-19.  We want to learn from these mammals how a long life without age-related diseases is possible and how we can better resist viral infections.”

The project brings together a team of world-leading experts in the fields of bat biology, genomics, immunology and gerontology:

  • Björn Schumacher - Genetic Professor at the University of Cologne genetics and a world-leading expert on genome stability in ageing and diseases
  • Emma Teeling - an internationally renowned bat biologist and Professor of Zoology from University College Dublin, Ireland
  • Linfa Wang - Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School and a specialist in zoonoses, diseases that are transmissible from animals to humans
  • Michael Hiller - Professor of Comparative Genomics at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Gemrany and international expert in the field

Together they will investigate the molecular mechanisms of the ageing process of bats. To do this, they will examine up to 150 different bat species. In addition, the team will explore the genetic basis and evolutionary history of the extended health span and disease resistance of bats, and create genetically modified animal models to experimentally confirm the unique adaptations found in bats. Ultimately, the goal is to use the findings to pave the way for future therapies for humans.

The ‘BATPROTECT’ is one of 34 awarded projects, which were able to hold their own in a field of 395 applications and will receive a total of 359 million euros in funding.

Media Contact:
Professor Dr Björn Schumacher
Institute for Genome Stability in Ageing and Disease / CECAD – Cluster of Excellence Cellular Stress Responses in Ageing-Associated Diseases and Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne - University of Cologne

Modified press release by the CMMC

Original press release by the press and communications team - here:
Susanne Kutter - CECAD Public Relations Officer -
Press Spokesperson: Dr Elisabeth Hoffmann – e.hoffmann[at]