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Why are pandas so fat if they only eat bamboo?

How can giant pandas ( Ailuropoda melanoleuca ) stay so fat if they only eat plants that have virtually no fat? A team of Chinese researchers has analyzed the microbiota, the community of microorganisms in the gut of a billion giant pandas based on their fecal samples. They found that a bacterium called Clostridium butyricum, also found in the intestines of humans, can increase fat production and storage during a brief period of the year when nutritious bamboo shoots are available.


Changing the gut microbiota

And it is that, in late spring and early summer, pandas feed on new shoots that have a higher nutritional value , which allows them to gain weight.

Many animals experience a seasonal change in gut bacteria as a result of changes in food availability. It is not something new. This is also the case of the giant pandas that take advantage of these recently appeared bamboo shoots to gorge themselves on protein.

The most surprising finding in the case of pandas’ persistent fatness is that scientists have been able to link the animal’s appearance to its changing internal environment within its intestines.

“This is the first time we have established a causal relationship between a panda’s gut microbiota and its phenotype,” said study co-author Guangping Huang. “We’ve known these pandas have a different set of gut microbiota during sprout-eating season for a long time, and it’s very obvious that they’re plumpest during this time of year.”

In the future, the research team plans to identify more microorganisms in the panda’s gut and discover their role in the animal’s health.



Referencia: Seasonal shift of the gut microbiome synchronizes host peripheral circadian rhythm for physiological adaptation to a low-fat diet in the giant panda

Guangping Huang 8
Le Wang 8
Jian Li 8
Li Yan
Hong Wei
Fuwen Wei 9
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