They fascinate biologists. They can capture and consume live prey, even if they are only plants. How did carnivorous plants evolve? From the mechanisms that plants use to defend themselves.
It’s largely a mystery. Research from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of Washington was published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ (PNAS). It details how calcium molecules are involved in the process. They move dynamically within the leaf cells of carnivorous plants. And this happens in response to the touch of live prey.
The findings expand understanding of how plants interact with their environment. “In the future we will be able to alter these molecular pathways. We will develop plants that can survive in harsher conditions.” Explains co-author Professor Joanne Chory in a statement….
Plants like sundew survive in nutrient-poor conditions. Their DNA has not been fully cataloged. Fewer than a handful of laboratories in the world have been able to genetically modify them.
For this study, scientists applied genetic tools. They obtained images of the evolution of calcium when plants hunted. In non-carnivorous plants, calcium plays many vital roles. It activates jasmonic acid to repel unwanted insect pests, for example.
Sundew leaves folded less when given non-living prey. Also when their calcium channels were blocked. These findings demonstrate that calcium aids in the prey capture responses of insects.
“It was fascinating to see how these plants respond to mechanical stimulation associated with prey,” they indicate. “Calcium accelerates jasmonic acid responses. Thus non-carnivorous plants respond defensively to mechanical stimulation by pests.”
To understand how carnivorous plants evolved, more species need to be examined. It remains to take advantage of the results of these studies. For example, to improve crops in challenging environments.