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Digestive system optimizes performance: burmese python


Burmese python / Arno Meintje.. / LicenseCC-by-nc - Attribution Non-commercial

The gastrointestinal system in burmese pythons quickly regulates performance between fasting and feeding (leading to energy savings) thanks to cell plasticity.

"The morphology of the digestive system in fasting and refed Burmese pythons was determined, as well as the localization of the proton (H+, K+-ATPase) and sodium (Na+, K+-ATPase) pumps. In fasting pythons, oxyntopeptic cells located within the fundic glands are typically non-active, with a thick apical tubulovesicular system and numerous zymogen granules. They become active immediately after feeding but return to a non-active state 3 days after the ingestion of the prey. The proton pump, expressed throughout the different fasting/feeding states, is either sequestered in the tubulovesicular system in non-active cells or located along the apical digitations extending within the crypt lumen in active cells. The sodium pump is rapidly upregulated in fed animals and is classically located along the baso-lateral membranes of the gastric oxyntopeptic cells. In the intestine, it is only expressed along the lateral membranes of the enterocytes, i.e., above the lateral spaces and not along the basal side of the cells. Thus, solute transport within the intestinal lining is mainly achieved through the apical part of the cells and across the lateral spaces while absorbed fat massively crosses the entire height of the cells and flows into the intercellular spaces. Therefore, in the Burmese python, the gastrointestinal cellular system quickly upregulates after feeding, due to inexpensive cellular changes, passive mechanisms, and the progressive activation and synthesis of key enzymes such as the sodium pump. This cell plasticity also allows anticipation of the next fasting and feeding periods." (Helmstetter et al. 2009:632)
About the inspiring organism
Med_4113623099_c686dbbf0a_o 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: The dramatic switching design of the Burmese python GI system may provide useful ideas for sensor technology; for membrane technology where the driving of osmotic gradients needs to be optimized; and for medicine and pharmacology to treat acid reflux conditions.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Medical, pharmacology, nanotechnology, utilities

Department of Ecology, Physiology and Ethology
Jean-Hervé Lignot
National Center for Scientific Research
Helmstetter C; Reix N; T'Flachebba M; Pope RK; Secor SM; Le Maho Y; Lignot JH. 2009. Functional changes with feeding in the gastro-intestinal epithelia of the Burmese python (Python molurus). Zoological Science. 26(9): 632-8.
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