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Heart grows: Burmese python


Burmese python / Department o.. / LicenseCC-by - Attribution

Heart of burmese python incurs dramatic growth after a meal by reacting to fatty acids in the snake's plasma.

"The Burmese python…frequently goes months without eating and then gorges, sometimes downing an entire deer. To accommodate the sudden rush of sugars, fats, and proteins, its body goes into overdrive. Its metabolism speeds up nearly 40 times, and many of its organs, including its long digestive tract, double in size. Its heart also expands by 40%, presumably to pump greater volumes of blood throughout its body." (Strain 2011)

Researchers suspect that the cardiac tissue fuels its expansion by burning through three types of nutrients including myristic acid, a common ingredient in many animal fats and other reptile foods.
"Burmese pythons display a marked increase in heart mass after a large meal. We investigated the molecular mechanisms of this physiological heart growth with the goal of applying this knowledge to the mammalian heart. We found that heart growth in pythons is characterized by myocyte hypertrophy in the absence of cell proliferation and by activation of physiological signal transduction pathways. Despite high levels of circulating lipids, the postprandial python heart does not accumulate triglycerides or fatty acids. Instead, there is robust activation of pathways of fatty acid transport and oxidation combined with increased expression and activity of superoxide dismutase, a cardioprotective enzyme. We also identified a combination of fatty acids in python plasma that promotes physiological heart growth when injected into either pythons or mice." (Riquelme 2011:528)
About the inspiring organism
Med_snake Python molurus
Python molurus GRAY 1842
Common name: Bivittatus: dunkler tigerpython

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: TIGR Reptile Database
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_NT IUCN Red List Status: Near Threatened

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Cardiac medicine to increase the size of hearts in order to increase blood flow.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Medical

Riquelme CA; Magida JA; Harrison BC; Wall CE; Marr TG; Secor SM; Leinwand LA. 2011. Fatty Acids Identified in the Burmese Python Promote Beneficial Cardiac Growth. Science. 334: 528:531.
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Strain D. 2011. The incredibly expanding snake heart. ScienceNOW [Internet],
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