Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Sequence Pitcher Plant Genome to Elucidate Plant Carnivory

February 8, 2017

Carnivorous plants exploit animals as a nutritional source and have inspired long-standing questions about the origin and evolution of their carnivory-related traits. To investigate the molecular bases of carnivory, the team of Kenji Fukushima from the University of Colorado School of Medicine sequenced the genome of the pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis). In a previous study, the team succeeded in regulating the developmental switch between carnivorous and non-carnivorous leaves of the pitcher plant.

The team found changes in the plant's genome that were linked to remarkable characteristics of carnivorous plants, such as prey attraction, trapping, digestion, and nutrient absorption. The team also analyzed the plant's digestive fluid along with three other independently evolved pitcher plants.

The study concluded that the separately arisen digestive enzymes often include similar genetic components, even though the lineages had split more than 100 million years ago, suggesting a high degree of convergent evolution, a phenomenon where distantly related organisms end up with similar forms and function in response to similar environmental challenges.

The high degree of convergent evolution also suggests the use of common evolutionary pathways in independently evolved carnivorous plant lineages and that there could only be a few available evolutionary pathways for angiosperms to become carnivorous.

For more on this study, read the article in Nature Ecology and Evolution.