The giant panda is plump enough to roll down the slope like a ball. Adults with a body length of 1.2 to 1.9 m weigh on average 100 to 115 kg, and males weigh up to 160 kg. How do you maintain a body like this while supplying 99% of your diet with bamboo, which is not nutritious?
Huang Guangping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and others, answered this question by using the excrement of wild pandas in a panda habitat in the Qinling Mountains of China. In a paper published in the scientific journal ‘Cell Reports’ on the 19th, the researchers announced that they would solve this problem by “flexibly changing the intestinal microbiome in accordance with seasonal changes in food.”
Pandas eat bamboo all year round, but the parts they eat vary depending on the season. The researchers said, “From the end of August to April of the following year, bamboo leaves are eaten for eight months, but when bamboo shoots appear at the end of April, they eat young bamboo shoots as soon as they appear until August.”
Although bamboo contains less than 4% fat, the protein content is relatively high, so pandas consume half of their energy in the form of protein. The giant panda was transformed into a herbivore while retaining the digestive system of a carnivore. Protein dependence is similar to that of wolvesdo.
Just like a brown bear hunts salmon that has come down rivers to store fat for the winter, giant pandas devour bamboo shoots to secure insufficient nutrients, the researchers said. The protein content of bamboo shoots is 32%, which is much higher than 19% of bamboo leaves.
Pandas accumulate more fat and gain weight in bamboo shoots than when they eat leaves, even if they eat the same amount of food. The secret is to change the microbial ecosystem, including gut bacteria.
Researchers examined the microbial community by collecting excrement from wild pandas eating only bamboo leaves and eating bamboo shoots, and found that butyric acid-producing bacteria in the gut bacteria increased rapidly when they ate bamboo shoots. Metabolites of this bacterium stimulated the synthesis and storage of fats by increasing the expression of circadian genes.
Thanks to butyric acid, pandas, like bears that eat salmon to build up fat, can build up for the winter when they give birth. The weight gain in the period of eating bamboo shoots was four times greater than when the leaves were eaten. Lead author Huang Guangping said, “It has been known for a long time that pandas’ intestinal bacterial ecosystem changes while eating bamboo shoots, but this study has revealed a causal relationship.”
The researchers transplanted microbiome from panda’s feces into sterile laboratory mice, and found that mice that received the microbiome from bamboo shoots gained significantly more weight and accumulated more fat. Hwang said, “Since we could not directly test on the endangered giant panda, we applied the fecal microbial community transplantation (FMT) to mice. I hope to be able to,” he said.
Cited Papers: Cell Reports, DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.110203
Correspondent Jo Hong-seop of the Hankyoreh [email protected]
Source: HuffPost South Korea – Athena by www.huffingtonpost.kr.
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