Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

Researchers Find How Venus Flytrap Plants Can React To Touch

Photo credit: 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.

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.

Reported by Erik Anderson

RELATED: San Diego Researchers Looking To Grow A Climate Solution

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.

RELATED: 1st Clone Of US Endangered Species, A Ferret, Announced

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.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.