Washington: A team of biologists has revealed that the Burmese python`s ability to ramp up its metabolism and enlarge its organs to swallow and digest prey whole can be traced to unusually rapid evolution and specialized adaptations of its genes and the way they work.
Lead author Todd Castoe , an assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science, and 38 co-authors from four countries sequenced and analyzed the genome of the Burmese python, or Python molurus bivittatus.
Castoe said that one of the fundamental questions of evolutionary biology is how vertebrates with all the same genes display such vastly different characteristics. The Burmese python is a great way to study that because it is so extreme.
The new python study calls into question previous theories that major obvious physical differences among species are caused primarily by changes in gene expression. Instead, it contends that protein adaptation, gene expression 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.
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."
The study showed a remarkable correspondence between the function of the selected genes, and the many functionally unique aspects of snake biology - like their unique metabolism, spine and skull shape and cell cycle regulation.
The study is published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).