Getting swole with Burmese pythons: the transcriptomics of python feeding

This child is best friends with a 15-foot Burmese python (photo from:

Burmese pythons can get pretty big. And they get even bigger after they eat a meal: like a mouse or an alligator. Indeed, their guts undergo rapid changes in form and function during and after a feeding bout. And, since everyone everyone and their mothers are doing transcriptomics, a group of researchers decided to see if gene expression changes occurred along with these drastic changes in physiology (spoiler alert: they do).

Within 48 h of feeding, Burmese pythons experience major shifts in systemic physiology, including as much as 44-fold increases in metabolic rate and 160-fold increases in plasma triglyceride content. Major organ-specific changes also occur within 72 h of feeding, including 40–100% increases in the mass of the heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and small intestine.

The transcriptomics of Burmese python feeding have already been examined, but the authors of this study wanted do a more comprehensive and detailed analysis. To do so, they collected small intestine and mucosal samples from 2-3yr old pythons at multiple time points before, during and after feeding.
What they found wasn’t terribly surprising. You can’t expect such rapid physiological changes to occur without substantial changes in gene expression. ~2,500 genes (out of how many? They don’t report a total number of genes) had significantly different expression levels 6hrs post-feeding compared to fasting levels, but these expression levels returned to (mostly) baseline ~10 days after feeding. Interestingly, they found that cell-growth-related genes and cell death-related genes were differentially expressed across the time points (although I would have thought that cell growth would be upregulated shortly after feeding and cell death upregulated when returning to baseline, but this wasn’t necessarily the case: see Fig. 4A).

Our analysis demonstrates that extensive and rapid shifts in gene expression accompany rapid and massive changes in intestinal form and function upon feeding in the Burmese python.

Audra L. Andrew , Daren C. Card , Robert P. Ruggiero , Drew R. Schield , Richard H. Adams , David D. Pollock , Stephen M. Secor , Todd A. Castoe Physiological Genomics Published 1 May 2015 Vol. 47 no. 5, 147-157 DOI: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00131.2014

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