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Secrets to 'extreme adaptation' found in Burmese python genome
Date:12/3/2013

on and changes in the structure of the organization of the genome itself are all at work together in determining the unusual characteristics that define snakes, and possibly other vertebrates.

Pollock said the python and king cobra studies represent a significant addition to the field of "comparative systems genomics the evolutionary analysis of multiple vertebrate genomes to understand how entire systems of interacting genes can evolve from the molecules on up."

He said: "I believe that such studies are going to be fundamental to our ability to understand what the genes in the human genome do, their functional mechanisms, and how and why they came to be structured the way they are."

The Burmese python's phenotype, or physical characteristics, represents one of the most extreme examples of evolutionary adaptation, the authors said. Like all snakes, its evolutionary origin included reduction in function of one lung and the elongation of its mid-section, skeleton and organs. It also has an extraordinary ability for what researchers call "physiological remodeling."

Physiological remodeling refers to the process by which pythons are able to digest meals much larger than their size, such as chickens or piglets, by ramping up their metabolism and increasing the mass of their heart, liver, small intestine and kidneys 35 percent to 150 percent in only 24 to 48 hours. As the digestion is completed, the organs return to their original size within a matter of days. The authors suggest that understanding how snakes accomplish these tremendous feats could hold vital clues for the development of treatments for many different types of human diseases.

"The Burmese python has an amazing physiology. With its genome in hand, we can now explore the many untapped molecular mechanisms it uses to dramatically increase metabolic rate, to shut down acid production, to improve intestinal function, and to rapidly increase the size of its heart, intest
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Contact: Traci Peterson
tpeterso@uta.edu
817-521-5494
University of Texas at Arlington
Source:Eurekalert  

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