A recent study reveals how the Big pandas could afford to be vegetarian. It is pretty common knowledge that the giant panda is an herbivore; and this is despite the fact that the animal is probably better equipped to consume meat. And if that is the case, how can the massive—but gentle—beast sustain its health without any whey?
Well, it turns out that the giant panda simply survives by consuming mostly bamboo and expending very little energy.
“Pandas save a lot of energy by being frugal with the energy they spend on physical activity,” explains Prof John Speakman, from the University of Aberdeen and Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The lead study author goes on to say, “However, it is not only their low activity that contributes to their low metabolism; the metabolic rate of an active panda is still lower than a completely stationary human,” adding, “We found that their low metabolism is correlated with very low levels of thyroid hormones, which was linked to a genetic mutation in the thyroid hormone synthesis pathway that is unique to the panda.”
The research exposes that the panda’s remarkably low metabolic rate lies in the fact the animal has extremely low levels of thyroid hormones which is most likely because of a mutation of the DUOX2 gene which is involved, of course, with the synthesis of thyroid hormone. As in humans, the thyroid gland of the giant panda controls metabolic process and that includes energy use too.
Indeed, as biologist Fuwen Wei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology in Beijing, “Giant pandas achieved this low metabolism through a suite of morphological, behavioural, physiological and genetic adaptations during their long evolutionary history.”
The lead study co-author goes on to say, “These reduced organ sizes likely contribute to their low energy demands.”
The study has been published in the journal Science.