Scavenger found to have genetic traits that account for a stalwart stomach and powerful immune system that let it carry on eating carrion
6:29AM BST 21 Oct 2015
|A Eurasian black vulture Photo: Alamy|
A diet of putrid rotting flesh may not be your cup of tea, but to the cinereous vulture, found across southern Europe and Asia, it is positively delightful. This tough bird, it turns out, is genetically wired to thrive on the stuff.
Researchers on Tuesday said they have sequenced the genome of this big scavenger, also called the Eurasian black vulture, identifying genetic traits that account for a stalwart stomach and powerful immune system that let it carry on eating carrion.
They pinpointed genetic features related to gastric acid secretion that help explain this vulture's ability to digest carcasses and other features linked to its immune system defense against microbial and viral infections from decomposing flesh.
"It is known that they are all but immune to botulism and that they can happily eat the flesh of an animal coated in Bacillus anthracis that causes anthrax," said geneticist Jong Bhak of South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology.
"They also are known to take infected food with rabies, hog cholera and numerous other diseases that would be lethal to most other scavengers."