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Innovative research with pythons offers new insights into the body's digestive processes

(February 3, 2003) - Bethesda, MD - Your diet is primarily high protein, consisting of a wide range of mammals and selected birds. The meals you eat avoid fat and cholesterol your food selections seem to be good for you, but is it healthy?

This is not a discussion of the millions who have now adopted the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins. The high protein diet described belongs to the Burmese python and new findings based on research with animals reveal the physiological processes that occur with digestion of a high protein fare. Accordingly, this animal's emergence as a laboratory animal may have contributed to an earlier resolution in the heated debate that was carried on about the safety of the high protein diet.

Background
The Burmese python (Python molurus) and its unique feeding habit of eating at infrequent intervals (several times a year), on large meals (often exceeding the creature's body mass), are associated with large intestinal responses. Specifically, within 24 to 48 hours after eating, the python experiences a 2.5 fold-increase in intestinal mucosal mass, a six-fold increase in microvillus length, and 25 to 100-fold increases in metabolic rate and plasma hormone and lipid levels. In total, the overall gastrointestinal response is twice that of a mammal laboratory animal, making this species ideal for study (the researchers selected the python knowing that any conclusions reached would have to be tested in a mammal subject).

Mice, rabbits, rats, and dogs have all served science by taking their place as mammalian models for study of human physiological processes. However, despite the use of live animal subjects, the digestive process, or the gastrointestinal response to food, has remained unclear. Essentially, these conventional laboratory animals feed frequently on small meals and therefore are always constantly digesting and express only modest activity of gastrointest
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Contact: Donna Krupa
djkrupa1@aol.com
703-527-7357
American Physiological Society
12-Feb-2003


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