Bats are unique among mammals, possessing some of the rarest mammalian adaptations, including true self-powered flight, laryngeal echolocation, exceptional longevity, unique immunity, contracted genomes, and vocal learning. They provide key ecosystem services, pollinating tropical plants, dispersing seeds, and controlling insect pest populations, thus driving healthy ecosystems. They account for more than 20% of all living mammalian diversity, and their crown-group evolutionary history dates back to the Eocene. Despite their great numbers and diversity, many species are threatened and endangered. Here we announce Bat1K, an initiative to sequence the genomes of all living bat species (∼1,300) to chromosome-level assembly. The Bat1K genome consortium unites bat biologists (>148 members as of writing), computational scientists, conservation organizations, genome technologists, and any interested individuals committed to a better understanding of the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms that underlie the unique adaptations of bats. Our aim is to catalog the unique genetic diversity present in all living bats to better understand the molecular basis of their unique adaptations; uncover their evolutionary history; link genotype with phenotype; and ultimately better understand, promote, and conserve bats. Here we review the unique adaptations of bats and highlight how chromosome-level genome assemblies can uncover the molecular basis of these traits. We present a novel sequencing and assembly strategy and review the striking societal and scientific benefits that will result from the Bat1K initiative.


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