Towards the end of the 19th century, horrific stories about killer plants began to appear everywhere. Terrible tentacled trees snatch and swallow unwary travelers in distant lands. Crazy masters raised feral dew plants and pitcher plants on raw steak until their predatory creations turned and ate them too.
Young Arthur Conan Doyle stuck close to the flag in threads depicting everyone’s favorite carnivore, the Venus flytrap. Drawing on entirely new botanical discoveries, he meticulously described the bi-lobed traps, the way insects catch, and how thoroughly they digest their prey. But even his rockets were improbably large, large enough to bury and consume a human. Carnivores and man-eating plants have been having a moment, and for that you can thank Charles Darwin.
Until the days of Darwin, most people refused to believe that plants eat animals. It was against the natural order of things. mobile animals eat; The plants were food and could not move – if killed, it should only be in self-defense or by accident. Darwin spent 16 years conducting rigorous experiments that proved otherwise. He showed that the leaves of some plants were transformed into ingenious structures that not only trap insects and other small creatures, but also digest them and absorb the nutrients released from their carcasses.
In 1875, Darwin published Insect eating plants, detailing everything he discovered. In 1880, he published another book that breaks the myth, Motion force in plants. The realization that plants can move as well as kill has inspired not only a very popular genre of horror stories but also generations of biologists eager to understand plants with unexpected habits.
Today, carnivores are going through another big moment as researchers begin to get answers to one of the great unsolved mysteries of botany: How did flowering plants with moderate behavior evolve into deadly carnivores?
Since Darwin’s discoveries, botanists, ecologists, entomologists, physiologists, and molecular biologists have explored every aspect of these plants drowning in fluid-filled jugs, immobilizing them with sticky “flycatcher” leaves or trapping them in snap traps and suction traps under water . They detailed what the plants capture and how – as well as some of the benefits and costs of their exotic lifestyle.
Recently, advances in molecular sciences have helped researchers understand the main mechanisms that underlie the carnivorous lifestyle: How does a fly trap settle so quickly, for example, and how it turns into a “stomach” for insect juice and then into a “intestine” to suck the remains of its prey. But the big question remains: How did evolution provide these diet dissenters with the means to eat meat?
Fossils provide almost no clues. There are too few, and fossils can’t show molecular details that might point to an explanation, says biophysicist. Rainer Heydrich from the University of Würzburg in Germany, who explores Meat Origins In 2021 Annual review of plant biology. Innovations in DNA sequencing technology now mean that researchers can address the question another way, looking for genes associated with carnivores, determining when and where those genes are turned on, and tracing their origins.
There is no evidence that carnivores acquired any of their feral habits by hijacking genes from their animal victims, Hedrich says, although genes are sometimes passed from one type of organism to another. Instead, a slew of recent discoveries point to co-option and re-employment of existing genes with ancient functions ubiquitous among flowering plants.
“Evolution is sneaky and flexible. It takes advantage of pre-existing tools” Victor Albert, a plant genomic biologist at the University of Buffalo. “It is easier in evolution to repurpose something than to make something new.”