Revealed: Study finds how pandas gain weight on a bamboo diet | world news

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Researchers have figured out how pandas can gain weight even though they only eat bamboo.

It turns out that the animals’ gut bacteria change during the season when nutritious bamboo shoots become available.

This helps the bears store more fat and could make up for nutrient deficiencies during seasons when there are only bamboo leaves to chew on, a study by the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggests.

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Female baby pandas can grow up to 90 kg, while males can reach around 136 kg

pandas eat between 26 and 84 pounds of bamboo daily, depending on which part of the plant they consume.

Guangping Huang, one of the authors of the study, said: “This is the first time we have been able to establish a causal relationship between a panda’s gut microbiota and its phenotype.

“We have long known that these pandas have a different set of gut microbiota during sprout-eating season, and it is very apparent that they are chubby at this time of year.”

A newborn panda is about the size of a stick of butter — but females can grow up to 90kg, while males can reach around 136kg, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

In late spring and early summer, the animals consume protein-rich, freshly sprouted bamboo shoots – a change from the usual fibrous bamboo that is available.

The experts studying wild pandas in central China’s Qinling Mountains found that they have significantly higher levels of a bacterium called Clostridium butyricum in their gut during sprout-eating season.

To test the effect of this change on a panda’s metabolism, they performed a fecal transplant of wild-collected panda feces onto germ-free mice.

Giant panda twins are weighed in Tokyo
Image:
Baby pandas are the size of a stick of butter when they are born

For three weeks, the mice were then fed a bamboo-based diet similar to that eaten by pandas.

Mice transplanted with panda faeces collected during sprout-eating season gained much more weight and had more fat than mice transplanted with faeces collected during leaf-eating season.

The authors believe the bacterium could make the bears store more fat.

Its metabolite, butyrate, is sold to humans as a probiotic supplement, but the safety of its consumption has been debated.



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