A vulture is genetically wired to thrive on rotten flesh. Although, rotting flesh may not be your cup of tea, for the tough bird, it is positively delightful.
Researchers on Tuesday said they sequenced the genome of this big scavenger, also called the 'Eurasian black vulture'. It identified genetic traits that account for a strong stomach and powerful immune system that let it carry on eating the dead flesh.
'They pin-pointed genetic features related to gastric acid secretion that help explain this vulture's ability to digest carcasses. Defence against microbial and viral infections from the decomposing flesh are other features linked to the vultures immune system', according to a Thompson Reuters report.
"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.
This vulture may have the strongest stomach in the world, Bhak said.
"They have an extremely acidic stomach, enough to melt bones and perhaps metals," Bhak added.
The cinereous vulture, whose scientific name is Aegypius monachus, can be found in plains, grasslands and mountainous regions from Spain to South Korea.
One of the world's largest birds of prey, the researchers compared its genome to that of the American bald eagle, and learned that the two are closely related than previously suspected.
Bhak said they share a common ancestor that lived about 18 million years ago.
The cinereous vulture is a member of a group called Old World vultures. Found in Europe, Asia and Africa, these birds are distinct from the New World vultures such as the Turkey vultures. "Most of the recent common ancestor of Old World and New World vultures lived about 60 million years ago" Bhak said.
The research was published in the journal Genome Biology.