Tuesday, 19 May 2015

How Burmese pythons grow and shrink after eating

May 19, 2015

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

The changes that occur to the anatomy and physiology of a Burmese python is controlled by a series of alterations in gene expression, scientists from the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Colorado, and the University of Alabama report in a new study.

Their research, published earlier this month in the journal Physiological Genomics, analyzed the changes that occur to the snake species in the days after it first ingests a meal, and as the authors wrote, their work could shed new light on how vertebrates control organ growth and function.

Even though the Burmese python’s has a distinct body shape when compared to other vertebrates (including humans), its organs function in much the same way. As a result, findings from snakes can be adapted to better understand how the human body works, and might lead to the discovery of new ways to treat a variety of diseases, the authors explained in a statement.

They added that their study is the first to associate the extreme changes of the Burmese python’s body, and its intestines in particular, to changes in gene expression. Furthermore, they claimed that their paper is the first to demonstrate just how rapidly those genetic changes occurred.

Potential model for studying intestinal cancer

Three days after a Burmese python’s eats, its organs expand to nearly twice their original size, and the creature’s metabolism and digestive processes increase at least 10-fold. Ten days after eating, the meal is fully digested and the changes to the snake’s body are reversed, allowing it to return to normal size and its physiology to stabilize.


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