Venus flytraps use defensive genes for predation

a Venus flytrap

The genes that allow a Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) to catch and digest insects might have their roots in basic plant defense, researchers suggest. 

Scott Schiller/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) make carnivory look cool. But the genes that make it possible have roots in herbivory.  

Though modern flytraps eat insects, their ancestors probably didn’t. In search of clues to this transition, Rainer Hedrich of the University of Wurzburg in Germany and his colleagues looked at protein production patterns in in different parts of the plant. 

Unstimulated traps seem to decode genes for similar proteins to those found in leaves, which supports the theory that traps originally evolved from foliage. Glands inside the trap, which help with digestion, share common gene expression patterns with roots — perhaps because both process nutrients.

Sensory hairs signal traps to close on prey. When an unsuspecting spider trips those trap hairs, gene expression patterns shift dramatically. Traps start producing signaling hormones and digestive enzymes. Some of these same protein pathways also help plants heal wounds inflicted by herbivores. Venus flytraps may have rewired traditional plant defense machinery to eat insects in nutrient-poor soils, Hedrich’s team writes May 4 in Genome Resarch

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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