This Plant Eats Meat and Here is How

Venus Flytrap

Many of us know already that plants take in inorganic compounds and use it to produce organic compounds, this process is termed photosynthesis (the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.)

Well, some plants actually feed on meat, I mean real meat and not just nutrients which they gain from the soil.. Examples of these plants are Venus flytrap, Pitcher plant, Sundew plant, Bladderwort and many more.

But how come these plants started craving for meat. According to biologists, who carried out a research on the Venus flytrap, here is how,

Many biologists suspect this predatory behavior evolved when ancestors of today’s carnivorous plants turned mechanisms that normally detect and defend against insect pests into offensive weapons.

Now, this is just a  hypothesis, but it has gained support from a detailed genetic study of Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) as they snared crickets and began to digest them alive. 

The study lead by bioinformaticist Jörg Schultz of the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in Germany and biophysicist Rainer Hedrich, a team tracked the genes expressed as the plants sensed and then digested their prey. The research, published online before print in Genome Research, provides the most detailed view than previous studies of the process.

To catch an invertebrate that has blundered into its snare, the flytrap relies on an ancient alarm system. It starts ringing when the victim jostles trigger hairs. The hairs in turn generate electrical impulses that somehow stimulate glands in the trap to produce a certain acid—the same signal that noncarnivorous plants use when trying initiate their defenses against herbivores.

The effects of the signal, however, is quite different in both plants. In noncarnivorous plants, the acid known as jasmonic acid triggers the synthesis of self-defense toxins and molecules that restrains the enzymes (hydrolases) which the herbivores use to break down the plant’s proteins. As part of their counterattack, plants also produce their own hydrolases, which can destroy a major component in the bones of insects (chitin) and other components of insects or microbes. 

In the flytrap, in contrast, jasmonic acid triggers a more highly destructive response: Tens of thousands of tiny glands make and secrete hydrolases. Thus, the  trapped invertebrate is drenched in the same digestive enzymes that another plant might use in smaller quantities to ward off an enemy. “It’s just a change in emphasis,” says Edward Farmer, a plant physiologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

After a few hours, the glands inside the trap turn on another set of genes that helps the plant absorb nutrients from its meal. Experiments showed that many of these genes are the same ones expressed in the roots of other plants. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Yes, it’s a root,’” Hedrich says. “It made immediate sense,” because the flytrap draws its nutrition not from soil, but from its prey.

The study was acclaimed to evolution as a plant physiologist at Palacky University, Andrej Pavlovic compared the Venus flytrap's innovations to the modification of a whale fin from the limb of their terrestial ancestors.

I tried to make this article simple and clear... Hope you learnt something today!

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