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International Team Of University Scientists Discover How Carnivorous Plants Came About

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A team of scientists from the National Institute for Basic Biology and SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) in Japan, BGI-Shenzhen in China, University of Colorado School of Medicine and University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences studied how carnivorous plants such as the various types of pitcher plants came to be. Their research examines the origins of carnivory in the said plants.

These distantly related plants, like the Australian, Asian and American pitcher plants were able to develop carnivory independently from each other, Phys.org reported. However, this new study concluded that they have the same biological machinery used in digesting insects.

University of Buffalo biologist Victor Albert said that there are limited pathways in order for a plant to become carnivorous. Their findings suggested that these plants tried to come up with a way on how to be able to eat meat and, in the end, came up with the same solution even though they developed the trait independently.

The research, entitled "Genome of the pitcher plant Cephalotus reveals genetic changes associated with carnivory," was published in the journal "Nature Ecology and Evolution." The study was led by Mitsuyasu Hasebe from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan and SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) in Japan along with Kenji Fukushima, Shuaicheng Li and Victor Albert.

According to Nature, Australian pitcher plants have carnivorous "pitcher" leaves and flat leaves. The researchers found that different genes are activated by both leaves, including genes that are involved in creating starches and sugars that produces nectar to lure the prey as well as the waxy substances that keep the insects inside the plant.

Pitcher plants catch insects by attracting them into a pitfall trap, which is a cupped leaf with a slippery interior that makes it difficult for the animal to climb out. Digestive fluids at the bottom of the trap break down the flesh and exoskeletons of the insects.

All pitcher plants have these characteristics even when they are separated by years of evolution. It was found that each of these carnivorous plants co-opted many of the same primordial proteins that create enzymes to digest prey.

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