Pythons are nonvenomous snakes that kill their prey using constriction. They do that in order to restrict it from breathing and let it die of asphyxiation. After eating, some pythons--particularly Burmese pythons--fast for as long as a year or more and their major organs atrophy. And when these pythons are ready to eat again, their major organs "regenerate" to prepare for digestion. Their metabolism also increases 44 times within 48 hours of feeding.
According to snake genomic expert and assistant professor of biology at the University of Texas at Arlington Todd Castoe, pythons spend an average of 95 percent of their lives fasting. These creatures prefer to have their organs wither than have these use all the energy stored in their bodies.
To find out
what makes a python regenerate their organs, scientists used supercomputers and data analysis resources at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. First, they fed pythons every thirty days. They then compared gene expressions to three groups of snakes: the ones who are fasting, the ones who ate the day before, and the ones who ate four days before. Using these supercomputers, scientists identified 1,700 genes and found parts that were in charge of the organ structure.
There are actually previous studies
already that showed how mammals benefited from this organ regeneration. For instance, a study in 2011 shows that rat heart cells increased in size after coating with blood plasma of recently fed snakes. But don't drink snake blood yet, as more research is needed to verify its effects on humans.
"We know that if you put serum on rat heart cells they grow, and it looks like they do the same thing that snake hearts do after feeding," Castoe said. "What we're not sure of if the molecules involved are all the same or not, but that's one thing we're really interested in."
Pythons aren't the only kind of snakes that can regenerate their organs. Rattlesnakes and boa constrictors do it too. Castoe wants to know more about how these snakes regenerate, and how common they are to pythons. "This is to see if we can subtract out the python specific stuff to see what's common and shared in all of these species to really identify what's the absolute essential pieces of this process. We don't really care, ultimately, about how python biology works, we care about how biology works," he said.
Well, I genuinely wonder how such biological process would work on humans too. Will this lead to mutants? Or is that too far off?