Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Cardiff scientists says panda genes explain bamboo diet

Giant panda eating bamboo
Current estimates put the total panda population at less than 3,000

Giant pandas should be carnivores but changes to their genes mean they may no longer be able to taste meat, researchers have found.

Taste may also explain why the bears eat an almost exclusive diet of bamboo despite lacking the genes necessary for complete digestion of their food.

The discoveries have been made by a team of scientists, which includes Prof Mike Bruford from Cardiff University.

He said it may aid conservation efforts for the endangered species.

Professor Bruford of the Cardiff School of Biosciences worked with a Chinese-led team of international researchers.

He said the results had shed new light on some of the giant panda's unusual biological traits.

The team has successfully sequenced the panda genome for the first time.

He said: "The panda is a true bear and is a carnivore, so it possesses the genes necessary for being a meat-eater and yet its diet is almost exclusively herbivorous.

"This may suggest that it relies on microbes in its gut to digest bamboo rather than on anything in its genetic make-up.

Professor Mike Bruford in China
The study gives us a fuller understanding of the genetic basis of the panda's biology, and will contribute to disease control and conservation efforts
Professor Mike Bruford

"Taste is also important when it comes to the development of dietary habits."

He said they discovered mutations in the panda's genes which may affect its ability to taste meat.

Prof Bruford said it was a possible explanation for why a potential carnivore would rely on a strict bamboo diet.

He said the study also supported the potential for successful survival despite the small population size of the species.

In spite of the panda's low reproduction rates, it identified nearly all the reproduction genes critical for mammalian gonad function and development.

Professor Bruford added: "The panda is at high risk of extinction and current estimates put total population figures at less than 3,000.

"The study gives us a fuller understanding of the genetic basis of the panda's biology, and will contribute to disease control and conservation efforts."

The full study 'The sequence and de novo assembly of the giant panda genome', has been published by the Nature Journal.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Giant panda genome project begins
01 Apr 08 |  South East Wales
New optimism for panda survival
24 Aug 07 |  Wales
Panda tests bring population hope
20 Jun 06 |  Wales
Pandas gain world heritage status
12 Jul 06 |  Asia-Pacific

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific