How Carnivorous Plants Developed Taste For Meat?

Posted: Feb 7 2017, 5:12am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 

How Carnivorous Plants Developed Taste for Meat?
Carnivorous plants evolved to digest insects through a strikingly similar evolutionary pathway as other plants that developed the same capability independently, a new study finds. Credit: Getty Images
  • How carnivorous plants acquired a taste for meat
 

Carnivorous plants apparently acquired a taste for flesh as a part and parcel of their evolution and biological history.

To vegetarians and vegans, the very thought of plants that are meat-eaters is a surreal and absurd occurrence indeed. Science has proved however that truth is stranger than fiction.

The origins of carnivorous behavior in a wide variety of plants has been studied extensively by researchers. The Australian, Asian and American pitcher plants are similar in appearance.

Even though all three developed the fine art of blood lust in a different manner from each other, in fact their evolutionary history is one and the same. 

The way they capture and then digest insects is a remarkable fact that has fascinated scientists. For a plant, the way to carnivorous behavior is pretty much the same.

Limited ways exist in which these plants manage to take the road less traveled by the rest of the family of trees, shrubs and herbs.

They have a genetic heritage and find a solution to their problems by becoming carnivorous in the process. All of them, down to the last one standing, finds the solution in this manner. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the scientists. 

Take the genome sequence of the pitcher plant Cephalotus. Pitcher plants lure insects to slip and fall down a pitfall dungeon of sorts. It is a trap of course.

The cupped leaf has a waxy and slippery exterior thereby making it an ordeal to get out of this death trap. A solution of strong biological chemicals lies at the bottom of this chute and it breaks down the exterior and interior of the insect’s body.

During the evolutionary history of all three pitcher plants, the same mechanism was followed on the route to carnivorous behavior. 

The same proteins were incorporated to make the enzymes that digested the prey which was in the form of insects. Among these enzymes is one which is called chitinase. It dissolves chitin.

Then there is purple acid phosphatase which enables the plant to recover phosphorus from the insect’s body. This is a classic case of convergent evolution.

One thing which is definite is that carnivorous plants grow in nutrient-deficient soils and so they prey on insects to make up for this nutritional deficit.

The findings of this study got published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.  

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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