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Researchers Find How Venus Flytrap Plants Can React To Touch

Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies leans over plants in a greenhouse in this undated photo.
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies leans over plants in a greenhouse in this undated photo.

San Diego researchers have isolated the biological mechanism that allows Venus flytraps to catch their living animal prey. The information may have applications for humans.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have uncovered a key biological process that allows carnivorous plants to feed on live insects.

Researchers Find How Venus Flytrap Plants Can React To Touch
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

The plant’s rapid movement allows it to trap live insects and understanding how plants do that is important.

“This is kind of the holy grail for the whole touch sensing systems in animals and plants,” said Joanne Chory, who leads the Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory.

Researchers Find How Venus Flytrap Plants Can React To Touch

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Previously, that process has been poorly understood.

In the Salk research, scientists cut thousands of microscopic trigger hairs from the Venus flytraps and used genetic sequencing technology to identify proteins that reacted to touch.

What they found was how certain proteins generated an electric charge at the cellular level when they are stimulated.

“So we’ve been using carnivorous plants to try and understand better this sensory modality, how the plants sense touch,” said Carl Procko, a researcher in the Salk Lab.

Scientists found the same mechanisms exist in a sundew, a plant with sticky tentacles that catch insects.

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Researchers are looking at replicating these protein systems in animal and human cells.

“And now you can apply an ultrasound stimulus, which is much like a touch stimulus,” Procko said. “And you can perhaps modify the activity of those human cells.”

That might be used to help the human body generate insulin, a benefit for people living with diabetes.

The findings are published in the current edition of the journal eLife.