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article imageWatch 'The Inner Worlds of Carnivorous Plants,' going viral

By JohnThomas Didymus     Apr 1, 2013 in Science
The video give a bug's eye-view of a carnivorous plant. It allows you to dive into the digestive tract of a bug-eating plant and experience what it is like to be swallowed by one and possibly even barfed back up if you give the plant indigestion.
For those who recall Audrey II, the man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors, it is an opportunity to relive something akin to a horror movie scene but this time with the mitigating effect of a bright mix of colors and inspiring music.
According to Eureka Alert, the video is part of the work of a team led by Professor Enrico Coen from the John Innes Center. He was awarded a €2.5M EU funding to study the growth and evolution of carnivorous plants.
Karen Lee, a researcher working with Coen on the project at the John Innes Center, said: "Carnivorous plants turn the normal order of nature upside down, eating animals instead of being eaten by them. They present us with a fascinating example of how new shapes and structures evolve in nature."
Carnivorous plants have cup-shaped leaves which they use to catch prey including insects, protozoa and even sometimes small animals such as tadpoles. They are able to gain extra nutrients to survive in areas where the soil is poor in nutrients.
An upper pitcher of Nepenthes lowii  a tropical pitcher plant that supplements its carnivorous diet ...
An upper pitcher of Nepenthes lowii, a tropical pitcher plant that supplements its carnivorous diet with tree shrew droppings[1][2][3]
JeremiahsCPS
Scientific American explains that the 3D imaging technology used to create the video, "optical projection tomography," is the latest technology in the field that uses microscopic techniques to reveal the inner morphology and function of carnivorous plants. Lee explains that the team uses the 3D views in their research to capture the plants' development process.
"The video provides a look at the inner workings of four different, vessel-shaped carnivorous plants that have evolved independently. If you view it while trying to channel your inner insect victim, you will see them as formidable death traps!" Scientific American writes.
The pitchers of Heliamphora chimantensis are an example of pitfall traps.
The pitchers of Heliamphora chimantensis are an example of pitfall traps.
Andreas Eils
Evolutionary Biologists note that the carnivorous plant lifestyle and supporting anatomical structures evolved independently in a number of taxonomic orders of flowering plants (see photos for examples). This suggests that the evolution of carnivorous lifestyle adaptations in plants was achieved by simple changes. Lee said: "To understand the origin of such forms, we need to know how they develop and how one form may be derived from another."
The leaf of a Drosera capensis  bending  in response to the trapping of an insect.
The leaf of a Drosera capensis "bending" in response to the trapping of an insect.
Noah Elhardt
Coen and his colleagues are presently focusing research attention on a genus of carnivorous plants called Ultricularia, known by the common name bladderworts. They are found in aquatic environments and instead of using roots to extract nutrients from the soil like other plants, they prey on water-fleas and protozoans. The leaves are modified into cup-like structures that are equipped with a trap door with attached trigger hairs. When an animal comes into contact with the hairs the door flips open and the animal is sucked in and digested.
Coen and his team hope that through observations of growing plants, 3D imaging and genetic analysis they will be able to gain insight into the patterns of growth and differentiation of carnivorous plants at the cellular and tissue level and how development is controlled genetically.
The scientists will investigate the evolutionary homologies and analogous structures across the different taxonomic orders and also among animal species.
More about carnivorous plants, carnivorous, Ultricularia
 
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