July 06, 2015
An interesting article came across our desk recently about a group of scientists studying the metabolic pattern of the giant Panda Bear in relation to their food source, and the findings were quite unexpected. Giant pandas are black and white Chinese bears and they’re becoming an endangered species. Eating exclusively bamboo, they have the most specialized diet of any of the bear family.
Analyzing the pandas’ fecal matter, the scientists revealed they were missing two essential gut microbes, Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroides. These are plant-degrading bacteria found in the guts of bears. This puts the pandas in a dilemma, according to the study; because if their guts are unable to properly digest their staple bamboo diet how will they continue to survive? It would seem that over time they’ve adapted however, but in order to compensate, they stuff themselves full of bamboo.
This is where the findings become interesting, as the study isn’t about over-eating but survival. Now having a better understanding of how the giant panda’s gut works, the scientists theorized that by giving them probiotics or bacteriotherapy they’ll be able to significantly reduce the amount of food they’re eating, and the pandas will be able to better adapt to their environment, especially when their food supply is scarce.
It is very significant to think that evolution, and possibly environmental factors, have played a very big role in shaping the diversity of the panda’s gut microbes, not to mention, this is an amazing discovery that could potentially save these beautiful creatures, and perhaps other animals from extinction. A healthy and balanced gut microbiota plays a key role in ensuring proper digestive functioning in human beings as well as the animal kingdom.
Evolution and culture has played a similar role in humans, and while we’ve certainly made advances in medicine, sanitation, diet and birthing techniques, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface on the impact our modern lifestyle has on the diversity of our microbiota.
Until fairly recently, little research had been done in this area. Microbiologist, M. Gloria Dominguez-Bello, from the New York University School of Medicine and her colleagues were among the first to characterize gut bacteria from a remote Yanomami tribe living at the border of Venezuela and Brazil. The tribe was completely isolated from modern medicine, food and culture. Using DNA analysis to figure out which species thrived inside their guts, Dominguez-Bello and her team discovered they had about 50 percent more ecological diversity compared to the average American.
Several years later, a second study looked at two indigenous populations in New Guinea who regularly used antibiotics. Yet, findings showed they still had higher levels of diversity compared to Americans. While there was disagreement on whether antibiotics were the reason for the difference, little was known about the diet in both populations. Common to both populations was the lack of modern sanitation and hygiene. In previous studies, little had been known how Western lifestyles have affected diversity but modern sanitation and good hygiene practices substantially limit the transfer of germs between one another.
The Importance of Probiotics
There are still a number of questions left unanswered. We’re left to wonder if the differences in diet between the two populations had an impact. From our blog about Fast Food, we know there is an abundance of evidence on how a bad diet can devastate our gut microbes. We rely on a healthy gut, so altering its diversity affects our ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, train our immune system to fight of illness, and more. Similar to the pandas, we need probiotics. Daily use of a high quality probiotic supplement such as Natren Healthy Trinity provides essential support to your digestive system, to replenish and keep a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria.
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