A new study by ZHANG Wenping, a Panda specialist at Sichuan University in Chengdu, has shown, by metagenome sequencing of the Panda’s gut microbiota, that it is not the Panda microbiota which would make a major contribution to his nutrition by degrading of cellulose or lignin abundant in bamboo, a Panda’s major staple food. Rather, the Panda’s own digestive enzymes have evolved for a high digestibility of starch and hemicellulose, allowing for a fast dietary transition from breast milk to bamboo shoots and tender leaves as a major source of nutrition. Bamboo has among the highest levels of starch among all woody plants, and giant pandas have adapted to bamboo as their preferred nutrition because it is everywhere in their habitats, and they have few competitors for this type of food.

CAS news release, February 27, 2018