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Biochemistry - Neuroscience - Nutrition

Why Does the Giant Panda Eat Bamboo? A Comparative Analysis of Appetite-Reward-Related Genes among Mammals
Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Author: Ke Jin et al.

by Ke Jin, Chenyi Xue, Xiaoli Wu, Jinyi Qian, Yong Zhu, Zhen Yang, Takahiro Yonezawa, M. James C. Crabbe, Ying Cao, Masami Hasegawa, Yang Zhong, Yufang Zheng


The giant panda has an interesting bamboo diet unlike the other species in the order of Carnivora. The umami taste receptor gene T1R1 has been identified as a pseudogene during its genome sequencing project and confirmed using a different giant panda sample. The estimated mutation time for this gene is about 4.2 Myr. Such mutation coincided with the giant panda's dietary change and also reinforced its herbivorous life style. However, as this gene is preserved in herbivores such as cow and horse, we need to look for other reasons behind the giant panda's diet switch.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Since taste is part of the reward properties of food related to its energy and nutrition contents, we did a systematic analysis on those genes involved in the appetite-reward system for the giant panda. We extracted the giant panda sequence information for those genes and compared with the human sequence first and then with seven other species including chimpanzee, mouse, rat, dog, cat, horse, and cow. Orthologs in panda were further analyzed based on the coding region, Kozak consensus sequence, and potential microRNA binding of those genes.


Our results revealed an interesting dopamine metabolic involvement in the panda's food choice. This finding suggests a new direction for molecular evolution studies behind the panda's dietary switch.