New study shows that although pandas love chewing bamboo all day long, the microorganisms found in the bear’s gut are not well adapted to break down bamboo composites.
A new research, released yesterday, explains that the gut bacteria of giant pandas is not fully evolved to break down cellulose, a very hard to digest fiber found in bamboo plant walls. Pandas have a gut microbe that is more similar to the one found in carnivores rather than herbivores.
For pandas it is the same as for humans. We can seldom eat our favorite dishes without making our digestion processes suffer. Who would have thought that a green and fresh bamboo branch can make such fuss for pandas?
Ancient pandas were originally omnivorous, which means they used to eat both meat and green food. However, panda bears began to incorporate bamboo into their diet no less than 7 million years ago. They decided to turn bamboo into their main meals, excluding other kinds of foods from their diet, 2 million years ago.
Bears eat bamboo with their strong jaws that have developed in time to help them peal the bamboo husk and indulge in its musty and delicious fiber. They have also developed a pseud-thumb which allows them to consume the plant.
The pain point remains their digestive tract which has not evolved enough to help absorb the tough plant parts.
The intestine of panda bears is dangerously too short for bamboo digestion, as the fibrous plant asks for time to completely break down, process which requires a longer intestinal tract.
To support the findings, a team of researchers has gathered 121 fecal samples from 45 giant pandas. The study had 24 adults as subjects, 16 juveniles and 5 cubs. They combined this information with some previous research proceeded on 7 wild pandas. It seems that the bears don’t have plant-degrading bacteria such as Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroids.
The gut microbiota is not well adapted at all to its unique diet, which places pandas at an evolutionary dilemma, researchers reported. Could this mean that a more complex diet or an alternative diet make up for better digestion processes? Pandas seem to love their food, in spite of the tummy aches it causes. Maybe somewhere in the future they will want to forget about the freshness of bamboo and go for something smoother for their stomachs.
Panda bears spend no less than 14 hours every day consuming bamboo, but only 17% of their meal benefits from proper digestion processes.
Image Source: english.cas.cn