Agilent and the Giant Pandas

The Giant Panda is one of the most well-known and recognized animals on Earth.  It is also one of the most vulnerable and endangered.  This rare animal’s natural habitat has been reduced to the high mountains of three provinces in China.  There are only 1,800 Giant Pandas left in the wild.

There’s more bad news: high concentrations of arsenic have been detected in the groundwater of these provinces.  As a result, Giant Pandas are being exposed to elevated levels of arsenic – not only from the water, but from the bamboo (their main food) nourished by this water.

Researchers from Austria and China wanted to know: Is the health of the Giant Panda being negatively affected by this chronic exposure?  Or are the animals somehow adapting?

The researchers used an Agilent ICP-MS, Triple-Quad ICP-MS and HPLC to examine the urine and feces of free living Giant Pandas.

Here’s some good news: the researchers discovered that the Pandas are able to excrete 90 percent of ingested arsenic through their urine as dimethylarsinic acid (DMA).  Similarly, feces samples contained 70 percent inorganic arsenic and 30 percent DMA.

In other words, the Giant Pandas have found a way to metabolize the arsenic and largely purge it from their systems.

“This indicates that the Giant Panda possesses a unique way of very efficiently methylating and excreting the provided inorganic arsenic,” the researchers write.  “This could be essential for the survival of the animal in its natural habitat, because parts of this area are contaminated with arsenic.”

Today’s blog topic was suggested by Agilent scientist Rudolf Grimm, who is retiring tomorrow.  Dr. Grimm has been an invaluable friend and resource to this blog since it began.  Thank you for everything, Rudi!

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