It's a question that strikes fear into the hearts of vegetarians everywhere: why are pandas so chubby despite their steady, low-fat diet of bamboo shoots and leaves?
Well, a study by the Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences has now revealed that pandas are destined for greatness —figuratively speaking— because of a fat-storing microorganism in their gut.
“We’ve known these pandas have a different set of gut microbiota during the shoot-eating season for a long time, and it’s very obvious that they are chubbier at this time of the year,” explained Guangping Huang, first author of the study.
To investigate whether the gut microbes induced body mass changes, scientists compared the gut microbial composition of pandas in China’s Qinling Mountains during leaf- and shoot-eating seasons.
Studies showed that a panda’s gut hosted significantly higher levels of a metabolism-affecting bacterium called clostridium butyricum during shoot-eating season. This bacterium produces a butyrate compound that increases levels of a gene (Per2) which accelerates fat synthesis and storage.
A more in-depth analysis was carried out by transplanting panda faeces into germ-free mice, who were kept on a three week bamboo-based diet. The mice that received shoot-eating season panda faeces gained more weight and fat than the leaf-eating season recipients.
Further research will be carried out to identify more gut microorganisms and their role in the animal’s health.
So there you have it — the scientific explanation for how these vegetarian animals manage to stay so adorably chunky. Turns out they’ve just got the guts for it.
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[Cover Image via Unsplash]