Snakes, hearts and politicsDid you hear about the 16-foot Burmese python that was recently shot to death in the Florida Everglades?
By: By Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
Did you hear about the 16-foot Burmese python that was recently shot to death in the Florida Everglades?
Seems he had an unusually large bump in his belly so Skip Snow, a biologist and python specialist at Everglades National Park, conducted a necropsy, which is what they call an autopsy when it’s performed on something other than humans, and apparently the water management boys who shot Mr. Python had found him still flossing his teeth after having just snacked on a 76-pound female deer. Makes you want to immediately call your favorite travel agent and book an Everglades vacation, doesn’t it?
And why is a giant Burmese python, who comes from Southeast Asia, squeezes it’s victims to death and swallows them whole, hanging out in the Florida Everglades? According to state and federal wildlife officials, it’s because they have established a breeding population over the past several years, having arrived by way of the “exotic pet business.”
In other words, they’ve been tossed out of passing cars by some intellectually challenged pet owners along with old McDonald’s wrappers, two pieces of pepperoni pizza and a just-emptied six pack of Grain Belt.
Now for me, having recently revealed in this column that I am no fan of Badlands rattlesnakes, I naturally find this story to be slightly disconcerting and yet this is not the only python story that made the rounds this week.
It seems that a python study was recently conducted at the University of Colorado in Boulder which showed that there are huge amounts of health promoting fatty acids that circulate in the bloodstreams of pythons after they snack. And those fatty acids, along with a protective enzyme, may just help fix your ticker.
You see, a professor by the name of Leslie Leinwand and her research team found that the amount of triglycerides (which are good things) in the blood of Burmese pythons one day after gorging themselves increases by more than 50 fold, despite the presence of truckloads of fatty acids that build up after they literally “eat a horse.” And yet there is no evidence of fat deposits in the heart and that is due to the presence of a key enzyme (superoxide dismutase) that protects their heart from any potential damage. So if you’re someone who has spent a lifetime dining on Twinkies, SPAM, bacon and buttered popcorn, you may want to stand up and cheer, kiss your sister and thank God for giving you a new life.
Naturally the question that then arises for researchers is this; are there ways to package this enzyme/plasma mixture and protect human hearts with it? That led them to investigate precisely what is in the python’s blood plasma and to develop a mixture that mimics that plasma. They then injected mice with it and discovered that, yes indeed the mice’s hearts grew and got stronger.
“We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms,” CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme said. “Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in hopes that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans.”
So maybe snakes are good for something other than convincing biblical spouses to make their husbands eat nasty apples!
Of course, there are both good and bad types of heart growth. Bad heart growth is when the heart muscle thickens and decreases the size of the heart chambers, which negatively affects heart function because the organ then has to work harder to pump blood. On the other hand, heart enlargement from exercise is a good thing, and that’s what makes this python blood plasma/heart growth connection so important.
So, if you don’t mind doctors injecting you with the blood plasma of a python, you might find that your weak, worn-out heart will soon be replaced by one on par with that of a 23-year-old newlywed surfer on honeymoon in Tahiti.
Which somehow reminds me of the need for Americans to become much more involved in the upcoming presidential and other elections, and in monitoring the actions of their elected officials, because as Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian philosopher internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolent protest once said, “If I seem to take part in politics it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. Therefore I wish to wrestle with the snake.”
And borrow some of its post buffet plasma.
Holten is a freelance writer and cartoonist from Dickinson.