‘The Russians must know it’s a lie.’ Ukrainian bat research spun into a false tale of bioweapons : Disinformation campaign centers on routine collaboration on bat parasites
In 2020, German researchers began to collaborate with Ukrainian colleagues to survey bat parasites, mostly bloodsuckers such as ticks and fleas. They wanted to know what kinds of bacteria the bats in Ukraine harbored—a first step in identifying any potential threats to human health. Researchers at the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Veterinary Medicine in Kharkiv collected 140 fleas, ticks, and flies, plucked from captured bats in eastern Ukraine. They drowned the parasites in ethanol and shipped them to the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) near Greifswald, Germany. There, DNA from the parasites revealed the identity of pathogens such as Ricksettia, a common tick-borne bacterium. Results were presented at a German Veterinary Society conference in 2021. “It was very basic epidemiological research,” says FLI veterinary parasitologist Cornelia Silaghi, a leader of the collaboration.
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