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Russian scientists conclude bears eat wood as vitamin supplement

The research revealed that the wood contains various anti-oxidants and probiotics

MOSCOW, June 6. /TASS/. Vladivostok-based researchers unveiled ground-breaking discoveries about the composition of wood tissue, which bears inhabiting the Primorsky Region and the island of Sakhalin like to eat, the press office of Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) said. It turns out that the wood studied contains various anti-oxidants and probiotics, which the researchers believe is a nutritional supplement essential for carnivores which help sustain healthy gut bacteria (microflora).

In the future, such research might help contribute to creating new natural medications.

"The owners of domestic animals have definitely noticed that when pets are sick, they often search for some herbs and plants, eat them, and after several days recover. Now, researchers have begun studying this sort of self-medication by animals since it could shed some light on creating potentially new natural drugs. We conducted our study by exploring the composition of cambium - a kind of "bone marrow" of trees, which bears often eat. It turns out that this tissue is particularly rich in anti-oxidants and probiotics," Kirill Golokhvast, a coauthor of the study, vice-rector of FEFU for Academic Affairs, and research assistant at the Pacific Institute for Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences commented.

Several decades ago, zoologists noticed that bears often debark trees and from under the bark, they licked off a thin layer of cambium - the formative tissue, which is up to 1-centimeter in thickness from which all other cells of a tree evolve.

Some scientists believe that by doing so, the carnivores obtained additional nutrition. However, the Russian scientists disagreed with this hypothesis. The nutritional value of cambium is much less than the energy needed to get it.

To grasp the true reasons behind this unusual behavior by carnivores, the researchers collected samples of damaged trees in Primorsky Region and on Sakhalin Island. At these spots, the bears tend to debark East Siberian Fir trees and for this reason, the study has been mainly concentrated on these trees.

Unique nutritional supplement for bears

Using the mass-spectrometry approach, the scientists analyzed the chemical composition of cambium attained from damaged trees. It was discovered that all samples contain a great variety of various anti-oxidants and probiotics.

This finding empowered the researchers with the idea that bears ‘mine’ cambium primarily to balance the composition of microflora and for a biological food supplement.

The researchers scheduled to follow up on their study. "Our investigation is not only important but it is also an observation," Golokhvast noted. "Now, we would like to take the samples of cambium from other trees and conduct a detailed investigation in order to create new medications."

This work was carried out with the participation of scientists from FEFU, Pacific Institute for Geography RAS, and G.B. Elyakov Pacific Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry RAS. The scientific article was published recently in the Biochemistry Research International journal.